Development FAQ: 18-24 months – Tantrums

My 20-month-old doesn’t want a haircut.

I have just spent the most embarrassing morning trying to get Harry’s hair cut. At 20 months, I felt he needed to have his hair cut in a “big boy” style, but Harry had different ideas. He refused to co-operate, wouldn’t sit in the chair and ended up having a tantrum on the floor of the shop. I abandoned the idea, apologised and crept out. How will I ever get him to co-operate enough to try again?

Put yourself in your child’s shoes when it comes to the hairdressers – you may never have been there before, it’s a new experience and you would like to explore. But instead you are swept on to a high chair, tied into a large gown – and you cannot even see your hands. Looking in the mirror, you see a stranger with a pair of scissors, advancing towards your head! No wonder many first trips to the hairdressers end in tears.

Now that Harry has had one bad experience, you will need to build his confidence before attempting another visit. As you have already trimmed his hair, keep doing this for a month or two, but tell him when you are doing it, rather than snipping when he is distracted. By all means continue to trim while he is in the bath, but let him watch in a mirror. We teach children that scissors are dangerous and sharp, but this is where a lot of fear comes from as they think having their hair cut will hurt. Little children do not understand that hair grows back. If you can understand Harry’s fears, then you will think of ways to overcome them. Cut off a small piece of your own hair and let him feel it, or find a picture of yourself with longer or shorter hair, so he begins to understand that hair grows again.

Playing pretend barbershops can help, but a better idea would be a trip to watch you or his father have a haircut. In this way, he will be more familiar with the procedure. If you are anxious that Harry may not remain content during your appointment, then bring someone with you who could take him off once he has seen that haircutting doesn’t hurt.

Try also to find a hairdresser that is child-friendly. Discuss your concerns with them and schedule your appointment for a time when Harry will be neither tired nor hungry. Arrive in plenty of time so he can look at customers and equipment and talk about what you see. If Harry is still apprehensive, ask if they are willing for him to be on your lap, and wear a smock yourself. Get his hands out from under the smock as soon as it is on and give him a small toy to hold in each hand. When packing toys for the visit, don’t bring soft toys, as it will be hard to get hair off them.

If you can, plan a small treat for after the visit and tell him. ” We are going to the park/café/toy shop, but first we have to stop and get your hair cut”. Having something to look forward to should help. Dress him in old clothes for his haircut, a t-shirt is ideal, and put a clean one in your bag so he can change at the end; hair can be very itchy on the neck, so removing the old t-shirt will make him feel more comfortable. Baby powder can also make the removal of loose hair easier, so bring some with you if you wish. Finally, praise Harry for being co-operative during his haircut and, in time, visiting the hairdresser may become an enjoyable outing for both of you.