Hi Dr. Heather, My three-year old absolutely hates haircuts. Between the ages of 1 and 2, my barber cut his hair for free. He was fine at first, but then I think the clippers pulled him once, and he has not forgotten. We tried a children's barber a couple of times, but, whether she used scissors or clippers, the toys and movies and lollipops did little to quell his fears. Now, my wife cuts his hair with clippers, and he seems to dread it. He screams even when nothing is touching his head. It takes the two of us to hold him down and it’s a draining experience for all involved (but at least we're not paying forit!). Any suggestions?
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You have a great question. Your little guy feels he has no choice about the haircutting, following what sounds like a scare for him. Kids at this age let their imaginations get the best of them, and they DO fear what those clippers (or scissors) can do to them.
They are actually wrestling with their OWN feelings of aggression, so fears of monsters, clippers, dogs, and stuff like that are common at this age.
As they struggle with their fear of losing control and actually hurting someone (or breaking something), they become afraid someone or something will hurt THEM.
It's important to give some control back to your little man in a situation like this; otherwise, you're setting him up to fight you as his only response to trying new (and possibly scary) things.
Here are some things to try:
Talk to him about what happened. "I know you got scared that time. The clippers pulled your hair and you thought it would hurt. I know it makes a weird noise. Tell me what you remember about that time? Why did it scare you?" Find out the specifics of what it's like in his mind about the clippers. Listen carefully to all the details. Tell him you promise not to force him to have a haircut, ever again. "I know that time we had to hold you down, but you're a big boy now, big enough to sit still, at least for a super-short mini-haircut. I'm sorry we did that, we're going to try it a different way from now on."If you take all the control away from him, he's just going to try to hold on to some form of power by resisting even more.
Try to make some accommodations for him, based on what you found out. "The clippers scared you because they pulled on you by accident (or whatever he says happened). Do you want to see how it works on Daddy? Do you want to try to hold it for a second when it's on? I promise, today is NOT a haircut day for you. No haircut for you, we're just looking at the clippers today."
Ask him what would help him handle the clippers. "OK, we understand it's scary for you. We can have fewer haircuts, for awhile. Maybe next time, we try to clip your hair for just a few seconds. (turn on the clippers for like 10 seconds to let him see how long that is.) See? Can we cut your hair next time for just this long? Not the whole haircut, just the sides (or back, or whatever). Not today, just next Tuesday, when Daddy gets his haircut too. Mommy can cut my hair first, so you can see how it works."
Offering some choices and accommodations will help to assuage his fears, but it might take some time. Fears like this are common, but working with your kid is very likely to help come to some more positive outcome. He'll start to feel that he's part of the process, and that you are going to work together, WITH him, to come to a solution.
This will add to a great foundation of working together to solve fears and problems over the years! Instead of "Mom and Dad force me to do stuff that's really scary", It'll be, "Mom and Dad help me to figure out new ways to do scary things, and realize they're not so scary after all".
Good luck, and happy haircutting! Dr. Heather, the BabyShrink