About Back-to-School haircuts

I say it with love: Nothing is as random in a barber’s day as a child in our chair.

Here’s the 25-second short version

  • Make an appointment. Just trust me on this.
  • We’re not saving the world… Relax. Your child knows if you are tense about a situation, and you’re tense, they’re tense.
  • Go easy on the child – this probably isn’t a normal thing for them, yet (no matter how many times they’ve been to the Barber shop).
  • Make it a part of a fun day… it’s just one of the fun things we’re doing today.
  • It’s hair… Don’t force the haircut. Come back at another time, or even hang out for a while so they can see what happens and happy people.
  • Be flexible and patient… avoid making this a traumatic experience, and your next visit will probably work out much better.
  • Be okay with the haircut not happening… It can wait…. Give yourself a couple extra days in case your child needs to come back to adjust and/or complete a haircut.
  • Bring a photo of what you have in mind… your barber will do our best to get as close to it as we can
  • If you have to force your child to get a haircut, either physically or mentally, then a Barbershop is not the best place to take them (and I don’t want to be involved with being a part of a child’s traumatic experience). There are several salons and shops which are equipped and designed to help uncomfortable children be more comfortable in their surroundings.

Here’s the long and detailed version

This is a long read… but our children are worth it… and so are you.

I have a deep respect for barbers who are excellent with children. I once worked with a really young lady named Tori who was outstanding with children. She had a gift for making children comfortable, and she usually wound up getting good haircuts on them, as well.

In my experience, young children (seven years and younger) present a unique set of issues when getting their haircut. For many it is just not a pleasant experience, and can be scary. For a few, they think it’s painful.

I’ve kinda narrowed it down to three primary factors:

  • The child’s mindset and comfort
  • The parent(s)’ demeanor and expectations
  • The barber’s comfort

The child’s mindset and comfort

In the children’s defense, they are not in a barbershop very often, and it can be a strange place.

There’s a lot being asked of them…

  • sit on a cushion or a bench on top of another chair
  • wear a cape backwards (superheroes wear theirs on the back)
  • endure little tiny hairs falling all over the place and itching
  • don’t move their head while sharp blades are going all around their head, or worse, a big vibrating machine that is rattling their brains out
  • resist the ticklish reflex while another buzzing thing is running along their ears and neck
  • etc, etc, etc…

Most children don’t do these things in their day-to-day routine.

When a child gets scared (or when they are super-excited… this happens, too), they will flinch, jerk away, and move all over the place in all sorts of directions and contortions. These movements make giving a haircut a bigger challenge, at best, or at worst, create dangerous situations where someone can get hurt.

It’s important for parents (and barbers) to understand that this is not the child’s fault… helping them be comfortable (not compliant) is essential in getting a good haircut for them.

The parental presence

Unpopular opinion:
I can usually tell how the haircut is going to go by looking at the parents and getting a feel for their comfort level and mindset.

Sorry, parents… but a lot of this is on y’all (us).

When I see relaxed parents, I normally see relaxed children. When the parent is anxious or tense, usually the children are, too.

When a parent is controlling and prides themselves on being strong or in control, their child is usually compliant and afraid. They will say “yes” to anything the barber asks, and it is difficult to find out what they want… and these parents are usually the ones who will want several adjustments after the haircut is done. One of the tell-tale signs I see of this is them forcefully asking “are you sure this is what you want? Don’t you want _____?”

I could write a list of examples… such as

  • Unrealistic parents expecting to bring a one-year old in to have their head shaved.. I’ve had requests for bald fades #awwnawwhelllnaww
  • Frustrated parents full-on yelling at the child to sit down, hold still, and yes… to calm down
  • Parents ready for a fight, sitting the child on their lap, twisting their heads, and holding them with a vise-grip grasp
  • Angry parents forcing an already-crying child into the barber’s chair, escalating their tantrum
  • Cynical parents adding unnecessary fear-factors to the haircut with phrases like “sacrificial lamb” or “I’m going to tell them to give you a buzz cut”

I could go on and on with examples of where the parents’ mindsets are creating uneasy children.

The very first tip I would offer parents who want a happy haircut experience is to relax, themselves. The child’s first cue of how to feel is how the parent is feeling. If you’re tense, they’re going to be tense. If you’re relaxed and calm, they will be much closer to being relaxed and calm, themselves.

The barber’s mindset

One of my most influential mentors as a barber, Katie, breaks this down better than anyone I have ever heard break it down… If the child senses that the barber is not into giving this haircut, the kid’s not having it.

When a barber does not want to deal with a child, it shows… somewhere… and children can be incredibly in tune with how adults are feeling around them.

Conversely, when a barber naturally loves kids, children almost naturally respond well to it and give the barber a chance at making the haircut happen.

So what can we do to make a child’s haircut a happy experience?

Here’s what I’ve seen parents do for the happiest experience for everyone involved… most importantly, for their children.

Make the child’s haircut a part of a relaxed or fun day

From what I’ve experienced, the most successful haircuts (defined by the child having a positive experience and getting the desired haircut) have been when the haircut is part of a fun or relaxed day. It wasn’t its own event. It was part of a day of things happening, and there was usually something coming right after the haircut, like a fun restaurant, or a visit, or maybe a movie. The day is already a good day, and this is just part of it.

Be okay with the haircut not happening

I don’t know how many times I have heard that “they were great for their last haircut” or “they’re not usually like this.”

In my opinion, that’s perfectly okay. Kids (adults, too) can have their (our) moments where whatever is going on, they’re (we’re) not having it.

Some of my wisest barber mentors comment that sometimes, “the kid’s not gonna let it happen.”

Pro Tip: plan ahead… leave a couple days’ cushion for the chance to try again.

Related: don’t force the haircut

In short, if a haircut is turned into a traumatic experience, haircuts will continue to be traumatic for a longer time.

Lovingly hold when needed

On many occasions, I can take my time, let the child get used to being around the barbershop and the situation.

However, once in a while, sitting in the parent’s lap is the best option… it’s not as often as some would think, but when it is, I have had really good results.

There’s a fine line between having one’s child comfortable and forcibly holding a child in place… and I work hard to coach a parent to know where that line is, and not cross it. We want children to love being in their parent’s arms – and to be able to trust it.

I would much rather wait to cut their hair than to turn the parent’s embrace into something not to be trusted.

The most successful results have involved a phone for videos, and constant communication between me, the parent, and the child.

It seems that we’ve done even better when we play counting and holding breath games.

Most important: don’t get mad or frustrated with the child – praise the little victories along the way

I can’t say this enough… The child is in a very unfamiliar environment and things are happening that they just don’t see from day to day.

Celebrate their bravery, and praise the good job they are doing… because they are being very brave.

So what’s the barber’s part in all this?

As a barber, my job is to provide a positive experience and to treat the person (or people) in my chair as VIPs… and we might even get a haircut done!

When I am cutting a child’s hair, my primary focus is on their experience… the haircut is secondary… I’ll even sacrifice the haircut for the sake of their experience.

It’s my job to make it as happy as I can for them, and as stress-free for the parents. I have a whole bag of tricks to help the child feel comfortable and engage – and sometimes they work!

I also have a feather-light touch… there are times there they didn’t even realize their hair was getting cut until they started seeing hair fall down somewhere.

The next time they are in my chair, I want them having good memories of me and of being in my chair. If we can do that, there’s a good chance that they will let just about anything happen during their next visit (or maybe it will take a couple more visits).

When I am actually cutting, my primary focus is their safety and the safety of anyone else in or around my chair… including the parent and myself. I have worked very hard to develop my reflexes to quickly move my tools out of the way of their sudden movements, and have put in a lot of time to try to predict things children will do before making a sudden move.

Will I stop or refuse a haircut?

The majority of kids in my chair will usually tolerate getting the hair out of their eyes, off their collar, and clippered somewhat.

Some kids will allow a close buzz cut, and a few will even show the patience to get a faded haircut.

…and I will give them the absolute best cut that they will allow me to give them.

However, there are two situations where I will absolutely stop a haircut, and it will not restart until the situation is handled.

When safety is at risk

This is a no-brainer… or it should be. When a child puts themselves or anyone else at risk, I stop the cut.

I would rather send a child out of the chair with half a haircut than injure someone.

(Pro tip: this often gets their attention a couple minutes later when they realize that they only have half a haircut and they don’t want to leave looking like that… and when it doesn’t, give them a day or two to figure it out… they almost always come around, and haircuts become a lot less traumatic for them.)

When the haircut is becoming a traumatic experience for the child

If a haircut is allowed to become a traumatic experience, it will continue to be a very difficult time for what could be a long while… and that goes completely against my goal of making their haircut a happy and positive time for them.

It’s true that most kids eventually outgrow this awkward stage… yet we as parents can help and make the entire experience better for the child.

Barbers tend to see kids over a long period of time. Stories of barbers watching kids grow up and then cutting those kids’ kids’ hair are commonplace. A lifelong bond is often built when this is happening.