How To Cut Kids' Hair At Home (And When To Step Away From The Scissors)

If you’re dropping cash for every visit to a kids salon, you may want to reach for the clippers. But for some children, seeing a pro is the best option.
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There’s time. There’s money. And then there are children, who tend blow through both of those things with reckless abandon. Just keeping a child fed, clothed and looking reasonably presentable can be a giant time suck and a huge expense.

There are times, however, when you can make things easier by simply doing them yourself — like with kids’ haircuts. With a little bit of planning, you can deliver cuts from your back porch, at the kitchen table or even in the bathtub (which has its own surrounding controversies that we’ll get to in a minute).

But first, the bigger questions: Can you really save the time and money you’re putting into salon visits, which can run upward of $20 per adorable little head, by doing this yourself? Undoubtedly yes. But do you want to? Read on for some expert advice, then decide for yourself.

The nostalgia factor

Many of us grew up with cheap, sensible, clipper-happy parents whose concern for our self-esteem on picture day vanished as soon as they could grab a handy cereal bowl and start snipping away. Stylist Rod Anker remembers that his mother read a “How to Cut Hair” book from Reader’s Digest and began lining up the family for monthly haircuts. Anker, the youngest in his family, told HuffPost that his mother’s dedication slipped a bit with each new “customer.”

“By the time she got to me, she was clearly over it,” he recalled. “It was always a little traumatic.”

“There was little money around in my childhood, so my father turned his hands to most things around the house, including haircuts,” stylist Michael Van Clarke told HuffPost. “I always thought he’d been a barber in the army, but he’d just bought a barbering kit from a newspaper ad. I loved being sat on a stool with a big white sheet around me and listening to the clip, clip of the scissors. The best bit was always the tickle of the hand clippers up the back of my neck, regimental style ‘short back and sides.’”

Stylist Tim Foster also has clear memories of his mom’s stylistic efforts. He recalls the tall chair, the towel around his neck and the clippers that “sounded like a chainsaw.” All these years later, he’s philosophical about the result: “There’s a reason buzz cuts have always been popular, since they’re quick, easy and turn out great.”

Family bonding or childhood nightmare? Only you can decide

If you’re feeling nostalgic for the days of cheap and speedy parental haircuts, you might be inspired to try this yourself. One big key to success is going to be the attitude of the progeny in question.

Cozy Friedman, founder and CEO of Cozy’s Cuts for Kids, a kids-only salon in New York, told HuffPost that she’s pretty much seen it all.

“We’ve been cutting kids’ hair for 28 years, and we see some kids who really enjoy it, and others who are terrified,” Friedman said. She noted that some kids might prefer to have a parent cut their hair at home, while others might be so stressed that it can be easier to have an outsider tackle the job.

“There’s no right or wrong way when it comes to haircuts,” she added.

A little prep time can go a long way toward making a fun interaction out of this necessary grooming task. For Friedman, success comes down to one word: distraction, distraction, distraction.

“The more distractions you have on hand, the better, which is why we have little race cars for the kids to sit in, balloons, and videos,” she said. “We even have someone on staff who’ll sing songs and blow bubbles. More is better.”

“Kids are moving targets, so it’s important to be careful and plan ahead. Have a comb, a good pair of hair-only scissors and what you’re using for entertainment all in place,” she added.

And if you’re going to make a habit of this, you might want to invest in top-grade equipment.

“Hair is tough, and normal household scissors will not cut well,” Van Clarke warned.

Distraction is crucial to cutting children's hair.
Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images
Distraction is crucial to cutting children's hair.

Like having a good prep game, timing is important.

“Don’t try it when kids are tired, hungry or grumpy,” Anker said. “Do it when everyone is happy but not overstimulated.”

Once you have a plan ready, “do it quickly,” Foster added. “It only gets harder when they’re no longer interested.”

What to do next

Friedman has strong views when it comes to cutting hair in bathtubs.

“I always hear people recommending cutting in the tub, but I disagree,” she said. “I understand it makes for an easier cleanup, but it’s more slippery and harder to control.”

Instead, she prefers setting a chair on top of spread-out sheets of newspaper or a big garbage bag, and then – here’s the crucial part – setting that chair directly in front of a television playing your kid’s favorite program.

If your child’s hair tends to get tangled, start with some detangling conditioner and a good comb-out. Then, wet the hair evenly all over. With the TV still blaring, you should have enough time to comb and section out the hair, then start snipping or clipping.

“Watch YouTube instructions if you aren’t sure,” Friedman said. The YouTube channel Legit Mom Life, for example, is run by a professional stylist and features a number of kid-focused tutorials.

Just try to keep things simple, experts said.

“Don’t be too ambitious,” Van Clarke said. “You’re very unlikely to have more than 20 minutes where the child can be distracted or amused enough to keep still. It might work best if you do it in two sittings. Maybe start with just the bangs or just the base line. Layers require much more skill and a steady head.”

Every so often, step back and assess how things are going. If your kid’s hair is starting to look like something out of a horror movie, “then just stop,” Van Clarke said. “Call a salon that’s happy to work with children and get an appointment.”

Whatever you do, don’t use the word “cut”

“If your child is sensitive or nervous, talk them through what’s happening and how long you expect it to take,” Friedman said. “Different kids react to different things. Some freak out when the cape goes on. Others don’t like having their hair sprayed wet. Some don’t like the sound of the clippers, and others don’t like the sound of the scissors by their ears.”

Keep in mind that even just the sound of hair clippers can be triggering for some children.
Christopher Hope-Fitch via Getty Images
Keep in mind that even just the sound of hair clippers can be triggering for some children.

Be mindful of the language you use, too.

“We avoid using words like ‘cut’ because children often associate it with danger, so we say ‘trim’ instead,” Friedman said. “We say ‘here comes the rain’ when we spray the hair to wet it and ‘here comes Mr. Wind’ for the blow dryer.”

If this is all too much, see a professional

If just reading this makes you want to pull out your *own* hair, don’t despair. The good news is there are lots of professional hairstylists in the world, and they’d all love your business.

“We spend hundreds of hours learning how to make haircuts aesthetically pleasing, and we study head shape, tension, direction, elevation and more,” stylist Michelle Cleveland told HuffPost.

At the end of the day, it’s just hair — and it will grow back. The key might be knowing when to throw in the towel.

“If you’re having issues keeping kiddos still while also trying to master a seldom- or never-used skill set, take your kids to a stylist,” colorist and stylist Sam LaBella told HuffPost. “Kids’ cut places are so well-equipped, with patient stylists and loads of distractions. You can be right there for hand — or head — holding. It’s worth every penny, if you ask me.”

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