A trip to the barber shop is like an announced impending doom for kids. Like they have been put on the plank, a sword being poked in their back and a scary and disagreeable pirate voice from behind going ‘Walk that plank and into the water with the sharks matey’. Ok so maybe that’s not what all kids think exactly but none of them look forward to haircuts. They simply do not like barbers. I don’t know if I used to get hysterically scared when I was a kid but I do remember trying to fake stomach pain to avoid the barber. Hardly ever worked thou and I always ended up having to sit in the backyard on the stool and keep up my ‘brilliant’ acting performance of a stomach pain even through the haircut. But this was when I was probably 6-8 years old. The age I am referring to are under 6.
I accompanied my brother yesterday as he took his 5 year old son to the barber. Bribes of a toy and McDonald’s happy meal were not enough as he was hysterically crying from home till the barber. He isn’t the only one. I have often seen frightened, uncomfortable, crying, shouting and in some serious ‘emotional’ pain kids at the barbers. Its like all kids have it programmed inside their heads from birth that Barbers are not to be trusted. Or maybe it is the site of the metal being jagged around your head so much. And hair falling everywhere. I mean from a kid’s perspective it isn’t really a pleasant experience if you think about it. The build up to it alone is enough to ruin the kid’s mood and then once you get there – your parent is ensuring you are tied down to the chair and constantly saying things like ‘don’t move your head’ or ‘Close your eyes or the hair will fall inside’. I mean you really couldn’t make the whole experience any more worse. Actually if there is another kid there at the same time and he/she too is crying and wailing about the haircut that can make it worse. That could actually result in physical panic. The kid will lose what little nerve he had left and make a mad dash to the door. Doesn’t work of course and the kid probably knows this too.
I read the following on a website called ‘babycenter’ in an article written by Ms. Penelope Leach who is a Child Psychiatrist. Honestly it sums it up perfectly:
Starting at around 14 months (and sometimes until age 5 or 6), many children find haircuts absolutely intolerable. Perhaps it’s those big, shiny scissors coming so close to their vulnerable lobes and napes. Upon getting his first trim, for instance, one little boy I know simply howled, "Them’s my EARS!"
You’re right in thinking that forcibly restraining your toddler makes things worse. In fact, I’m surprised that you can hold him still enough for those tender ears to remain unscathed. Coupled with the trauma of being pinned down while haircutting shears slash their way around his head, a child’s natural fear of haircuts may become a phobia. If that happens, a picture or the mere thought of a haircut can frighten a toddler terribly. Even if your child’s apprehension centers around an actual, imminent haircut, the worst part of his fear isn’t those looming scissors, but the horrible panicky feeling of fear itself. That’s why you can never teach a child not to be afraid by frightening him even more. Indeed, every time you force your toddler to sit through his fear, you make it grow. The only haircut that will truly convince him that "there’s nothing to be afraid of" is the haircut that doesn’t scare him. For some kids, the formality of a trip to the barbershop is what’s frightening: entering a strange, funny-smelling environment; getting teased and cooed over by the assembled patrons there; climbing into a large, odd-looking contraption; and being wetted down and wrapped in plastic garments
She also goes on to say that there are steps that can be taken to make the haircut experience more pleasant for the kids. I think we are so auto-programmed to accept that Children will naturally hate barbers and haircuts that we as a reflex action assume the role of a defensive approach towards the whole thing. We should try tackling the thing with positive reinforcement. A defensive approach only adds to the kids woes. Start him out on haircuts at home. Replace the usual orthodox long and creepy looking metal scissors with maybe a more cartoonish handled scissor or something bright and kid vision friendly. Having a sibling around at the same time also helps.
In the end this is sort of a rite of passage for all kids and they will eventually move on from being hysterically panicked by haircuts to thinking of it as a loathsome activity to eventually well … adding the perks of a head massage.