Fort Myers OT

Fort Myers OT Tips: When Your Child HATES Haircuts

One of the most important things we do as pediatric occupational therapists is help educate, support and strategize with parents to give kids all the tools they need to be more fully involved in the activities of daily living. Haircuts are a part of that – but a lot of kids extremely dislike them. There is ample research to support what many parents of children with autism already know: More than 96 percent of kids with ASD report hyper- and hypo-sensitivities to certain stimuli. That can make something seemingly simple like getting a haircut an overwhelming experience. Our Fort Myers OT team has tips to help you before your child’s next trip to the clippers.

Why “Sensory Kids” Hate Haircuts

Haircuts can feel like torment to a child with sensory dysregulation. There is the swish of the cape, the fingers of the stylist, the sweep of the comb, the swipe-and-snip of the scissors, the bright lights overhead, the buzz of the clippers and the blast of the hair dryer – and all of this is happening all around the child’s head, ears, eyes and neck.

Not only can that be frightening, but it can be painful if a child is extremely sensitive to touch, sound and light – especially when all those sensations are happening seemingly without warning.

For a child with sensory processing disorder, it can put them into a “fight or flight” mode response. They may become defensive – and that’s when certain behaviors like kicking, screaming and flailing can be displayed. (Certainly not something you want happening around sharp edges!)

Fort Myers OT Tips for Haircuts

In addition to being overwhelmed by the sensory aspects, one of the biggest reasons many of our Fort Myers OT patients have a tough time with haircuts is because so much of it involves aspects that are unknown. As adults, we tend to take haircuts for granted as part of our typical, everyday life. But kids have less experience with them. If a child is walking into the situation not understanding what is about to happen or how long it will take, that can lead to a lot of anxiety.

Every child is different, and we do recommend talking with your Fort Myers OT if haircuts have proven extremely problematic for your child. That said, our general strategy to overcoming this is to encourage certain modifications to the process as well as provide preventative intervention for the child to prepare him or her.

Some ideas include:

  • Create a social story. Our occupational therapy team can help you create one. It’s a short book with pictures that will break down the process into small, simple steps with short phrases and a visual schedule that they can more easily understand. We may also in-clinic practice role-playing, so they know what to expect – and what will be expected of them.
  • Check out books and videos about haircuts. Kids with sensory processing issues aren’t the only ones who have some anxiety about getting a haircut. There are many children’s books and YouTube videos out there about the process that can help.
  • Have your child witness a haircut. It might be tough with COVID-19 restrictions, but if it’s possible, have your child watch a haircut, maybe on another family member, before they get one themselves. They’ll get to see the facility, meet the stylist and get used to the feel/idea of getting a haircut.
  • Is it possible for a family member of friend to cut their hair? If they could possibly do it at home, this might reduce some of the anxiety they have over the process.
  • Check their “sensory diet.” Our Fort Myers OT team frequently recommends children get certain types of sensory input, particularly prior to stressful activities. This can include heavy work, deep pressure, etc. The idea is to get them in the best possible frame of mind/body before they get their haircut.
  • Visual schedules. Similar to the social story, a visual schedule will help them better understand exactly what to expect.
  • Consider bringing your own cape from home. If you have one, something familiar like this might help cut down on the sensory overload.
  • Weighted blanket? Worn either in the minutes leading up to the haircut and possibly during the process, this might help calm your child.
  • Would it help if your child sat in your lap? Obviously, that will be up to the hair stylist too, but if they’re willing to accommodate, this might ease the anxiety.
  • Something to muffle the sound. If you get the sense that the buzz of the clippers or the snip of the scissors is troublesome for your child, consider getting some earbuds or earplugs (if you’re child is comfortable with it).
  • A preferred toy. A book, toy, video, chewy or stuffed animal might do wonders to help your child remain calm/sit still.
  • Offer a reward for a job well done. If they make it through the experience without a meltdown, give them ample praise and reward. That can motivate them for next time!

Obviously, not all of these will apply/work for every child. Rather, it’s a brainstorming start. Discuss your concerns and possible ideas with your child’s Fort Myers OT at FOCUS for more ideas specifically tailored to your child.

FOCUS offers pediatric occupational therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Sensory Processing in Autism: A Review of Neurophysiologic Findings, 2011, Pediatric Research

More Blog Entries:

Choosing the Right Occupational Therapist for Your Child, Oct. 12, 2020, Fort Myers OT Blog

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