Sensory issues and autism can make some experiences overwhelming – haircuts being one of them!
Think of all the elements that go into getting a haircut – the loud hairdryers, bright lights, product smells, fabric of cape, new people etc. It’s a lot! It’s a lot for any young child!
A while back I was walking through the shopping centre and I could hear a young child screaming. Not tantrum screaming, but complete terror and distressed screaming. Everyone around me in the shops seemed to feel how I felt, everyone was distressed but didn’t really know what to do. It turned out that a boy was sitting (being held) on his mums lap getting a haircut. I have never heard a child so legitimately terrified as this one, and the fact that other strangers were visibly distressed too meant that this was next level.
Why would you do that to your child? I don’t know that mother, she was trying to settle him, she wasn’t ignoring him or shouting at him, but let’s think about the situation for a minute. What is more important? Your child getting a haircut to look a certain way that you want them to look (because lets face it, young kids generally don’t care less about their hairstyle!), or your child’s emotional wellbeing? That young child will now forever associate haircuts with pure terror and that his mother was part of it and did not ‘protect’ him. He was alone in his terror. That will always be his neural pathway. He might learn to form a new pathway over time but the original one will forever be there.
So how can you combat this? Think outside the square. We get out haircuts at home by a friend of ours who is a hairdresser. We don’t use the cape on Miss V (she hates it) and we pop the ipad on and some calming essential oils. My friends warns the girls before she does anything (eg start snipping or using the water spray). She asks what they would want and actively involve them. The haircut isn’t happening TO them, its happening WITH them.
By adjusting the environment and taking away the things that are likely to cause distress you are setting them up for success. Maybe the hairdresser could use scissors instead of a razor cutter if your child is scared of it (the feeling or sound). Worst case scenario – no haircuts until they are older and better able to cope! That’s not so bad is it? In the meantime you could read stories about haircuts, watch other people get haircuts, do haircuts on specific toys etc. It’s all a gradual process but it’s all heading in the right direction.
What is your child’s experience of this?
Miss V getting her first haircut