By OT Helping Children
Getting a haircut can be an overwhelming activity for many children. Whether it’s the sound of the shaver, or sensitivity to touch, many of our kids with sensory processing difficulties will refuse to get their haircut. There may come a time where a haircut done by Mum or Dad will get too difficult and their hair will get in the way of their daily activities.
A hair salon is a complex sensory environment and can be unpredictable for our kids with sensory difficulties. There is often a lot of people there, combined with the noise of the trimmers and hair dryers. It is usually very bright and has lots of visual stimuli which can be distressing for some kids. Not only can this be scary, it can be a painful experience for those who are extremely hypersensitive to touch, sound or visual stimuli.
Have a look at our blogposts on Sensory Processing to understand more about sensory processing difficulties.
In addition to the sensory experiences, haircuts also tend to involve unpredictability. Young children will have not had much exposure to haircuts, which can increase their anxiety and fear. New environments can be overwhelming, especially for those who already experience sensory processing difficulties.
The good news is that there are many things you can try which will help increase your childs tolerance to haircuts.
Have a read of our 10 tips below:
- Research! There might be the option of going to a smaller salon in your area. Ask for an appointment time that is out of peak times.
- Make a social story so the child understands why they need to get their haircut and what to expect when they get to the hair salon. With permission from the salon and hairdresser, take pictures and put them in the story to increase predictability.
- Visit the hair salon with your child one or two times prior to the appointment. This is to get them familiar with the environment and enable them to meet their hairdresser. It’s also important for the hairdresser to have a basic understanding of your child’s needs.
- Role play haircuts at home prior to the appointment. You can use dolls and even let them pretend to give you a haircut to make it fun.
- Try using deep pressure activities BEFORE the haircut, such as massaging the head or shoulders, or wearing a weighted backpack. This is a form of proprioceptive input which can be very regulating and calming for kids with sensory processing difficulties. If they respond well to deep pressure, try a weighted blanket during the haircut.
- Use a visual schedule during the haircut appointment. Sticking the visuals on to a laminated visual with velcro can make it engaging and motivating for the child to complete each step and place it on the “finished” line.
- Use ear buds if the child is sensitive to noise. Play calming music if it helps to soothe them.
- Give the child something to fidget with, or distract them with a video of something they enjoy.
- Consider bringing in their own towel or cape from home if they are sensitive to certain textures or materials. Wear capes inside out if they are sensitive to tags.
- Oral input can be very calming during the haircut, such as chewing gum, lollipop, chewable necklace etc.
Not all of the tips above may be relevant for your child. An occupational therapist can assist you in identifying relevant strategies to best suit your child and their needs.
Occupational Therapy Helping Children is a specialist team of occupational therapists in Sydney’s Frenchs Forrest dedicated to helping children thrive, offering one on one supports, as well as parent workshops and teacher training sessions.