Help­ing chil­dren with hair care

Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - Deb Hop­per

Many chil­dren strug­gle to cope with the sen­sory bom­bard­ments that come with hair care. Some chil­dren as tod­dlers and pre-school­ers find this dif­fi­cult. Some chil­dren con­tinue to find these daily self-care tasks un­bear­able even into pri­mary school age. So why is it that many chil­dren strug­gle with what ap­pears to be such a sim­ple task?

Many chil­dren are over-re­spon­sive to the feel­ing of light touch. The feel­ing of wa­ter on their head dur­ing bath time, the towel dur­ing hair dry­ing, the brush for hair brush­ing, fin­gers for braid­ing or styling, the touch of scis­sors for cutting. All these sen­sory events can be very over­whelm­ing for tod­dlers or older chil­dren who are over re­spon­sive to screen­ing out touch sen­sa­tions. Ac­tu­ally, when the touch sys­tems are over re­spon­sive, the above sit­u­a­tions may be in­ter­preted by the child as be­ing painful or dan­ger­ous. It places their ner­vous sys­tem in a state of stress, or the fight/flight re­sponse.

As par­ents, we need to ac­knowl­edge and be re­spect­ful of how chil­dren are in­ter­pret­ing this in­for­ma­tion. It is a very real ex­pe­ri­ence. We can­not and should not force chil­dren to do these things if they find them dis­tress­ful. Just im­age if some­one told you to just jump off a bridge or bungy jump and just ‘get over’ your feel­ings of fear. It prob­a­bly wouldn’t make you feel any bet­ter about things.

In this ar­ti­cle, we will talk about strate­gies to help chil­dren cope bet­ter with:

• Hair care (brush­ing and styling)

• Hair cutting


1. Us­ing move­ment and mus­cle ac­tiv­i­ties be­fore hair care.

For ex­am­ple, be­fore morn­ing hair care, get your child to move and get the wig­gles out. Get them to jump on the tram­po­line, ride a tri­cy­cle or scooter, bounce on a ball, or an­i­mal walk down the hall­way. Once they have moved, their body will be calmer and it will be eas­ier to man­age the ac­tiv­ity. Be­fore a hair­cut, go to the park for half an hour or more be­fore the hair­dresser ap­point­ment. En­cour­age lots of ac­tive play us­ing their mus­cles, re­sis­tance and climb­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

2. Use deep pres­sure touch strate­gies for be­fore and dur­ing the ac­tiv­ity.

Deep touch or firm touch pres­sure helps to over­ride feel­ings of the stress and over re­spon­sive feel­ing. Some strate­gies in­clude:

• Be­fore hair brush­ing or cutting, press firmly on your child’s shoul­ders or give them a re­ally firm head mas­sage.

• Use firm touch pres­sure when brush­ing or comb­ing, or let the child brush their hair and show you what pres­sure they pre­fer.

• Use a weighted lap or shoul­der blan­ket for some deep pres­sure calm­ing in­put.

When a child is feel­ing over re­spon­sive and in the stress or fight or flight re­sponse, we need to help calm and or­gan­ise the child’s body.

• Get your child to wear a firm cap for half an hour be­fore the hair cut or hair brush­ing.

• On the way to the hair dresser, give them a weighted blan­ket or a heavy toy to cud­dle in the car.

3. Be aware of au­di­tory/sound is­sues that might im­pact on the stress re­sponse.

• At the hair dresser, be aware if the sound of the scis­sors or hair clippers is dis­tress­ing. If it is, use head­phones, or mu­sic to help block this out.

• Play calm­ing mu­sic, or their favourite songs dur­ing hair cutting.

• Ex­plain ev­ery step of what you or the hair­dresser are go­ing to do. For ex­am­ple, ‘First I’m go­ing to spray some wa­ter on your hair. It might feel a bit tickly, but it’s only for three sprays, then I’ll stop.’

Hair care can be re­ally tricky for lots of chil­dren. Use what­ever strate­gies you can to have suc­cess. Other might in­clude –

1. Us­ing dis­trac­tion – pro­vide sul­tanas or fin­ger foods as a di­ver­sion.

2. Us­ing the TV dur­ing the ac­tiv­ity.

3. Us­ing con­di­tioner reg­u­larly to re­duce hair tan­gles ( even if you have to use the sham­poo and con­di­tioner to­gether if bath time is tricky too).

Please re­spect a child’s feel­ings if they find these tasks dif­fi­cult. It may be a real stress re­sponse that they are feel­ing and not just bad be­hav­iour. If your child is con­tin­u­ing to strug­gle with these sen­sory is­sues, please talk about it to your fam­ily doc­tor, early child­hood nurse or oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist.

For more in­for­ma­tion, please re­fer to the Tools for Tots Book: Sen­sory Strate­gies for Tod­dlers and Pre-school­ers, by Diana Henry on our web­site.

Deb Hop­per is a prac­tic­ing Oc­cu­pa­tional Ther­a­pist and an Ama­zon #1 Best Seller au­thor for her book Re­duc­ing Melt­downs and Im­prov­ing Con­cen­tra­tion. She is pas­sion­ate about help­ing chil­dren achieve their po­ten­tial. As a prac­tic­ing Oc­cu­pa­tional Ther­a­pist at the Life Skills 4 Kids Clinic on the NSW Mid North Coast, Aus­tralia, she un­der­stands the day to day strug­gles that chil­dren, par­ents and teach­ers face. For a sam­ple chap­ter of her up­com­ing new book, join her news­let­ter or visit her web­site.

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