You might think your child's first trip to the salon is the cutest ever, but she won't see it that way. To her, being wrapped in a plastic cape, squirted with water, and attacked with sharp scissors by a stranger is just plain scary. "This is a peak time for stranger anxiety, and haircutting salons have lots of unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells that can upset your child," says Kori Levos Skidmore, PhD, a child psychologist in Oak Park, Illinois. But getting those little bangs trimmed doesn't have to be hair-raising -- as long as you plan it properly.
If your baby entered the world with luscious locks, she could be ready for a haircut as early as 8 months. But if she was a baldy, she may not need one until she's 2. There's no right or wrong time to go. It comes down to this: Do you want to preserve her baby look, or do you think she's ready for a big-kid 'do? "Keep in mind that once you cut off those curls, they may not grow back," says Christine Burger, founder of Noodle and Boo, a hair-care product line for babies and children. On the other hand, trimming superfine baby hair often makes it look thicker.
Toddlers don't like surprises, so have your child watch you get a haircut or visit his barber before the big day. "Talk to him about what he's seeing -- point out the cape he'll be wearing and what the scissors do," says Jane Loyd, owner of A Cut Above, a salon for children in Covington, Louisiana. Avoid using the word "cut," which may scare your child -- use "snip" or "trim" instead. Let him play with a squirt bottle in the tub at home, and pretend to trim his bangs with your fingers. And read books about the subject: We like Henry's First Haircut, by Dan Yaccarino, and No Haircut Today! by Elivia Savadier.
Choose a salon that knows how to deal with squirmy clients. Many kids' hair places have videos and books to keep little kids entertained. Some even do the first trim for free (others include a photo and certificate as part of a first-haircut package). If there isn't a children's barber in your town, ask your stylist to recommend someone who's especially good with kids.
Let your child bring a lovey and a small toy. These will help him stay calm and keep his hands occupied. You might also hide a treat in your purse for afterward. Before the barber begins, swing the chair away from the mirror so your child doesn't fixate on the scissors. If he refuses to wear a cape, put one on and show him how it looks. If he won't sit still, you may need to plop him down on your lap for the duration. But make sure a friend (or someone else at the salon) is there to take pics.
If you're apprehensive, your child will pick up on it and be more likely to cry during her haircut. "Talk to her about how much fun it will be," says Joanna Meiseles, founder of the Snip-its Hair Salon for Children chain. "Let her know how great she'll look after getting a trim. When she sees that you're looking forward to it, she will too."
Book your appointment between mealtime and naptime so your child isn't hungry or cranky. Call ahead to make sure the stylist is running on time. And don't hesitate to reschedule if your child seems out of sorts that day. "The first haircut sets the stage for years to come," says Loyd. "It's important to make it a positive experience."