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The Art of... At-Home Kids' Haircuts 

Published February 27, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. | Updated April 4, 2022 at 8:09 p.m.

click to enlarge Jillian cut's Mo's hair - COURTESY OF JILLIAN KIRBY
  • Courtesy of Jillian Kirby
  • Jillian cut's Mo's hair

Hair salons and toddlers don't always gel. Sitting still in a new environment while a stranger touches your head? The experience can be stressful for parents and kiddos alike. I've heard tales of stylists who are magicians with the under-3 set. But last year, when it was time for my son Mo's first haircut around age 1, we decided to skip the salon and go the DIY route.

It was a natural choice for me. Until I started cutting my own hair when I was in high school, my dad always cut my hair at home — and he did a great job. After I grew up, he taught me how to use clippers so I could cut his hair.

Confident in my styling abilities, I turned to childcare expert Janet Lansbury for tips on how to bring Mo on board. In a blog post about taking your kids to doctor, dentist and hair appointments, Lansbury writes, "Babies like to be included in a process, to participate as much as possible, even if it just means being informed about all that is happening to them. When babies are treated with this kind of respect, they are surprisingly cooperative, because they are aware and engaged."

In that spirit, I began preparing for the haircut long before it actually happened. Mo watched as his dad and I took turns trimming each other's hair with the same clippers I would use on him. He imitated the buzzing sound and laughed as we vigorously brushed hair off our necks.

One reason I like clippers is that their tiny, moving blades are covered by metal fingers and plastic guards, making them less likely than scissors to hurt a squirming child.

On the day of his haircut, Mo and I talked about the process.

"It will be a little noisy, and you will need to sit still, but you will get a cool new hairstyle!" I told him.

Later that day, I stripped Mo down to his diaper and sat him in his high chair. I handed him the comb and the unplugged clippers, and let him look at them for a few minutes so he'd get comfortable with the tools. Then I plugged in the clippers and held them up for a minute so he could get used to the noise.

I worked slowly, pausing frequently for Mo to move around and look at things. Using a #3 guard, which leaves hair about three-quarters of an inch long, I started at the nape of his neck, pulling out and away from his scalp as I went up to create a smooth transition between lengths.

Mo got frustrated because he couldn't watch, so we took a five-minute break. When we came back, I attached the longest guard, a #8, and loosely combed it through the top of his hair, stopping periodically to assess the shape and cut. For the finishing touch, I clicked on the shortest guard, a #1, to clean up his sideburns and neck line.

When I was finished, Mo looked handsome and somehow much older without the fluff of waves framing his pudgy cheeks. Brushing the little hairs from his neck and shoulders, I was glad we had gone through this rite of passage together, in the comfort of our own home.

One year later, we've made it through four drama-free home haircuts. At 2 years old, Mo has graduated from sitting in a high chair to a regular chair during the process. He enjoys playing with the soft hair as it falls, and, when I crouch in front of him to check our progress, he likes to assume the role of stylist and comb my hair.

The Mane Event

Hoping for a peaceful at-home haircut? Here are my top tips:

  • Give your child time to get used to the idea. Watching YouTube videos of haircuts together is a great way to familiarize kids with the process and to teach yourself haircutting techniques. Here's a great video to get you started:

  • Keep it simple. I rarely use more than two different guard lengths, one for the sides and back, and the longest one for the top. You can always go shorter, so if you're unsure, start with a longer guard.
  • You can cut longer hairstyles with clippers, too: My stylist actually uses clippers on my bob. Here's a helpful video:

  • If your child gets upset, take a break, brush off the hair (I use my largest makeup brush for this task) and come back to the cut after he or she has calmed down.
  • Take deep breaths and go slowly; accept that your toddler is not going to sit still and look in the same direction the whole time. Setting up a screen with a favorite movie or having another caregiver positioned in the direction you want your child to look can help.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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