When he was 2 years old, my son hated getting a haircut. He formed the strongest opinion about having his hair chopped off that anyone who tried to get near his head was instantly sorry. He insisted that whenever the freshly cut hair fell from his head, it turned into spiders crawling all over his body, which caused him to freak out uncontrollably.
My husband and I tried everything. We walked him through the process and explained to him, as best we could, that there weren't any spiders involved with haircuts. We let him watch my husband get a haircut. We even offered him a reward if he was able to go through with it. But try as we might, my son just couldn’t comprehend that there was nothing scary about getting your hair cut.
We figured he'd just grow out of it, but years went by, and my son still hated getting his hair cut. To avoid the embarrassment of my son having a tantrum in a salon, my husband and I tried to take some of the stress out of the situation by cutting his hair at home. But every time my husband tried to cut my son's hair, he'd weep and shake as he sat with a dropcloth draped over his shoulders. When the haircut was done, my son would run off to the shower to stand for what felt like eternity and wash the “spiders” off.
We didn’t think that things could get worse, but one day, when he was 3 years old, they did. As usual, we let him know a few days in advance that he was getting his hair cut, so he could work his courage up. In the days leading up to the haircut, everything seemed OK. But when the big day came and it was time to pull the shears out, my son lost it in a way he never had before. He was totally unconsolable. He just couldn’t bring himself to sit in the chair and let daddy trim his hair.
"We’re done with it all. No more haircuts. I don’t care how long his hair gets, we’re not going through this anymore until he’s ready and he gives us his consent.”
As I sat on the floor with him, my arms wrapped around his little shaking body, I realized that while the cause of my son's fear of haircuts was relatively minor, it was traumatizing him so much to get one that it just wasn't worth seeing him in such stress.
"Stop!," I said to my husband. “We’re done with it all. No more haircuts. I don’t care how long his hair gets, we’re not going through this anymore until he’s ready and he gives us his consent.”
My husband agreed.
From that point on, we stuck with the "no more haircuts until he's ready" rule. It no longer seemed important to me that my son regularly get his hair cut, because how important were haircuts, really? After becoming a mom, I pretty much only got a few per year myself.
I wouldn’t want anyone giving me a haircut if I didn’t want one. In fact, it someone tried to cut my hair without my consent, I’d be pretty damn pissed off.
I also tried to put myself in his shoes. I wouldn’t want anyone giving me a haircut if I didn’t want one. In fact, it someone tried to cut my hair without my consent, I’d be pretty damn pissed off. I realized that I needed to get out of my own head and think solely about my son in this situation. Even if his hair was all over the place during school drop-off, I couldn't let myself feel bad about it. If people looked at his long, shaggy hair and blamed me for being an unfit mother, then who cares? I wasn’t going to trouble my little guy with it anymore - not until he was ready.
I realized that while kids are supposed to follow their parents' directions until they’re old enough to make decisions for themselves, there are still some things they really should decide for themselves. They need to learn from the start what they are comfortable with and what they aren’t right from the start, and they need to learn how to vocalize those feelings.
As we predicted, my son finally did grow out of his fear of haircuts. A year after we decided to stop forcing him to get haircuts, he came to us on his own and said he wanted to get a haircut. At this point, he had been in school for a while, and he'd seen all the other children coming to class with fresh haircuts. During the haircut, my son complained that everything felt itchy, but he didn't say anything about spiders. We were so thankful that he had finally conquered his fear, and we were even more glad that he had made the choice to get a haircut for himself.
While kids are supposed to follow their parents' directions until they’re old enough to make decisions for themselves, there are still some things they really should decide for themselves.
Now that we have brought a second child into the world, I can only predict that she will be even more opinionated about her hair. But we're going to stick to the same rules: no haircuts without our kids' consent. As long as they're happy and healthy, that’s all that matters. After all, a little extra hair never hurt anyone.