Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How We Survive Haircuts

Last week we went for haircuts after school.  There's nothing like the well-groomed, adorable look of a child with a new haircut.  It's so cute!  If only people knew the traumatic experience a haircut can be for our kids with SPD!

Take Squirrel.  My little bald baby didn't even need her first haircut until she was 3 1/2.  We knew there would be issues involving the salon chair (she hated things that moved, hated being in a high place where her feet weren't on the floor) so I held her on my lap for that first hair cut.  And I knew she feared every new experience, so we tried to prepare her by going early and letting her watch me get a haircut first.  Even so, I didn't expect her to be so fearful of everything.  She jumped at the sound of the blowdryer being used on the other side of the store.  She clung to me as they snipped her hair with the scissors, saying the noise hurt her ears.  She was shaking and terrified throughout the whole experience, and asked if I would please never make her get another haircut again when it was over.  Well, I couldn't promise that, but I told her it would be awhile before she needed another one.  I praised her and rewarded her for being such a good girl.  And she's had many more haircuts over the years, some of them even at her own request.  But the anxiety over haircuts has never left her.

Last year she decided to grow her hair out long.  It's now more than halfway down her back, and we just go every six months for a trim.  I think part of her motivation for growing it out was not to have to deal with the trauma of the haircut.  I watched her yesterday, sitting across the room from where I was with her brother, all by herself in the chair.  She had her shoulders hunched up, and her hands absolutely clawed at the chair's arms, clenching them as if to hang on for dear life.  She didn't smile, make small talk with the stylist, or even look in the mirror.  She kept her eyes screwed shut tight and just endured the haircut.  I felt so bad for the distress it was obviously causing her, but I also was proud of her for being able to handle it herself.  When it was over, she took a deep breath and relaxed her body, and was ready to move on.

Munchkin has always been a different story.  He has a full, thick head of hair, and got many haircuts early in life.  These haircuts were always tough, because like any toddler, he wiggled and squirmed the whole time.  But he never showed any fear about getting a haircut until he was around 3 years old.  He had gotten into his sister's scissors, and cut several clumps of his own hair off, including most of his bangs.  The only way to fix it was with the clippers.  This was right around the time some of his own sensory issues were starting to show up, so I wasn't really surprised when the noise of the clippers sent him into full meltdown mode.  But, with his hair in shambles and now with a wide razor-sized swath missing down the middle, our choices were a buzz cut or hats for a long time.  So, with a guilty heart and a sick feeling in my stomach, I pinned his little fighting body down and secured his jaw in my hand so he couldn't move, and they cut as fast as they safely could.

Thus began the nightmare that haircuts would become for Munchkin.  At barely three, he couldn't tell me how bad haircuts bothered him (though I could certainly read a lot from the screeches and the fight).  And I wish I could say that this was the last time clippers were ever used on his head.  (But it wasn't.)  For about a year and a half, haircuts were a knockdown-dragg out fight which resulted in a frazzled stylist, a sweaty, hair-covered mom, and a hysterical angry child.  But things have gotten better over the years.  He is now almost six, and still hates haircuts.  However, we have learned a few things that make them more tolerable for him along the way.

First, he gets to say if and when he wants a haircut whenever possible.  This year he is finally able to explain to me his criteria for when his hair needs to be cut: "Mom, I only need my hair cut when I have to go like this (head swoop to one side to get the bangs out of his eyes) so I can see.  Or if my hair is making my forehead so sweaty."  So we have embraced the homeless Munchkin look on him, and have let his hair grow pretty long between haircuts.  Lucky for him, he is stinkin' cute no matter what haircut he does or doesn't have!

Second, we have learned to pack an arsenal of things to help him tune out that haircut when it's time.  For us, the i-pod is a great tool, especially when Daddy puts a new Thomas video on it.  The earbud-style headphones stay out of the way of scissors, and watching the screen helps him remember to keep his head down.  Other things that have worked include small cookies or candies (like M&Ms--but NOT suckers--what a hairy mess!), hand-held video games, a new book to look at, or anything else that keeps his hands occupied and away from the scissors and his head looking down.

Third, we've learned to let Grandma cut his hair in the quiet of her home, where there are no other distractions.  Or we try to hit the haircutting place right away after school...the daytime rush is over, and the evening walk-ins haven't started yet, so there is less commotion.  We've also learned to call ahead so there's no wait, to walk out if there is a wait, and to request the stylists that we know can work with our limitations.  (Specifically, no clippers, no hair dryer, minimum spraying from the water bottle, and--most importantly--to be able to cut the hair of a child who never stops moving without cutting the child.)

Most importantly, we let Munchkin control the haircut.  When it's obvious to us that he desperately needs one, we start talking about getting a haircut every chance we get.  It usually takes about a week for him to agree to one, so if we know he needs to look nice, we start talking it up early!  He then gets to pick who he wants to cut his hair, where he wants to go, and what he wants to do while they cut his hair.  Giving him control of this situation has made all the difference in the world!

Actually, this particular hair cut was a big thing for him too.  He didn't feel he needed it, so there was some arguing back and forth to try to convince him of it.  Once he did agree to it, he said he didn't want the i-pod.  He actually sat in the chair for the first time yesterday without anything to occupy him.  He needed lots of reminders to "Look down" and "Keep your hands down."  He squirmed and wiggled and wanted to see what was going on everywhere else in the salon.  He reminded the stylist at least a hundred times not to cut him.  But he got a hair cut without all the props he's needed for so long!

Of course, he also was smart enough to figure that he deserved a reward for doing such a great job.  And no small one either...no, this one cost me a trip to Target for a toy.  And, of course, Squirrel needed one too.  But two toys are a small price to pay for watching your children conquer their fears and overcome their obstacles yet again!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome Ellie! I learned so much that I can do with my boy for the next time! I enjoyed reading your blog, and it's beautiful! :)