Many children don’t like getting their hair cut, but for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder, getting a haircut is like torture. Getting a haircut is like a perfect storm of light touch and noise for children who are especially sensitive to both. Having scissors or a buzzer making noise in their ear and feeling someone lightly touching their hair behind their head where they cannot see can trigger a fight or flight response. For some kids, this means they’ll experience an increased heart rate and sweaty palms. For others, the anxiety of a haircut can escalate into kicking and screaming, which is definitely not safe around sharp scissors!
Before the Haircut
There are many things you can do with your child before the haircut even begins to help them get ready:
- Roleplay: Just like visiting the dentist, getting a haircut can be less anxiety-inducing if your child knows what to expect. You can practice for the big haircut by pretending to cut hair on toys and pretending to cut your child’s hair with some noisy salad tongs.
- Use the right words: Sometimes, just the word “cut” can cause anxiety. Instead, try saying “It’s time to get a trim!” or “Let’s go get a nice new hairdo!”
- Let your child watch a haircut: If you or a family member is getting a haircut, bring your child along so they can watch! This will help them to be more familiar with the process, making it seem less scary. Plus, they’ll get to see how much the recipient enjoys their new hairstyle!
During the Haircut
Here are a few things you can do during the haircut to minimize anxiety and sensory input:
- Bring a zip-up top: Having your child wear a button-up or zip-up top provides an extra layer of clothing to protect against those itchy hair remnants that tend to find their way inside of clothes.
- Bring a weighted blanket or lap pad: Weighted blankets provide calming sensory input, which can be crucial during a high-anxiety activity. Your child can wear the blanket in their lap before and even during the haircut.
- Bring a snack: Having some goldfish or gummies can be calming and distracting for your child during the haircut.
After the Haircut
Even if this haircut didn’t go well, there are things you can do to reinforce the routine of getting a haircut, since it’s something your child will have to do for all of their life.
- Build consistency: If possible, bring your child to the same salon and schedule every appointment with the same hairdresser. This will build consistency and help your child to know what to expect.
- Provide a reward: After the haircut, you can give your child a treat or take them to a favorite place so that they begin associating the haircut with positive experiences.
The Connections Therapy Center
The Connections Therapy Center serves families of children and adolescents with disabilities and special needs. We are a team of experts in the fields of pediatric speech, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, and behavioral sciences. As a team, we offer intensive hands-on therapy for children and adolescents, as well as informative and useful resources for families. If you are interested in learning more about what we can do to help your family, visit us online or give us a call at (202) 561-1110 (Washington, D.C. office) or (301) 577-4333 (Lanham office). Want to get more information on how to help your child thrive? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest.