Hairdressing Tips for Kids with Special Needs

Does your child with special needs do all they can to avoid having their hair cut or brushed? Here are our top tips for hairdressing without the tears.

Let your child choose hair brushes, braids and bobbles

Mia has always loved having her hair brushed, cut, twirled, plaited, twizzled and filled with as many hairslides and bobbles as she can muster. Her need for girliness has always outweighed my hairdressing skills by far. I still couldn't do a French Plait if my life depended on it!

Tears, Tantrums and Tiaras: Avoiding Hairdressing

Natty couldn't be more different. With her it's always been full on war to get a brush anywhere near her head. From washing to combing and cutting and every stage in between, we've been met with a full on tantrum or tears or running and hiding in a corner. 

We quickly realised that this was partly a sensory processing issue. Natty simply didn't like the feeling of the brush, or for that matter a flannel or toothbrush, so we had to be creative in our approach.

Hair though, has always been hugely symbolic for me where Natty is concerned. I recall thinking in the first few hours of her life, that she would always have the best haircut I could afford, and that I would always make sure it looked nice. I suppose I had in my minds eye the standard issue 'pudding bowl haircuts' of institutionalised adults and children with Down's syndrome that I had seen in my youth and I was determined to move Natty as far away from that model as possible. 
Superficial as it sounds, I knew she would be judged by society on appearances, and she deserved to look the very best she could at all times.

So, being creative and fun and finding tools that helped us along our way to the perfect crowning glory have been essential. Today we are all off for a haircut and finally we are in a place where Natty shouts 'Yay, I love Nancy cut my hair.'

Hairdressing Tips for Kids with Special Needs

  • Wash hair with a special jug with a rubber lip to avoid water getting in the eyes
  • Try taking the child in the shower with you and cuddling them, singing, while you slowly wash the hair. They can also draw and write on the shower door in the steam
  • Your child might like to wear swimming goggles while you wash their hair. I love this unusual idea
  • Use a mild shampoo and don't forget the conditioner as it will make brushing much easier. We use Neem or Tea Tree as it repels nits as well
  • You can buy kids' Tangle Free spray-in conditioners for stubborn knots

Tangle Teasers are worth their weight in gold

  • Buy a magic brush such as the Tangle TeezerThey work through hair easily and are worth every penny. They are available online and in many supermarkets.
  • Encourage hairdressing role play (HIDE THE SCISSORS! I say this from bitter experience). Let children brush each others' hair, set up a pretend salon.
  • Make up songs, stories and create picture books scrap books about having your hair cut. Download pictures of brushes and scissors and shampoo etc.
  • Buy fun hair accessories or hats as treats and let you child choose them.
  • Build up a relationship with one hairdresser if possible someone the child knows. We always go to my friend Nancy.
  • Consider having hair cut at home to avoid the noise and bustle of a salon.
  • Or pop into a salon frequently just to say 'hi', so that it becomes ordinary and familiar. Perhaps take them to watch you having your hair done.
  • Don't be afraid to use a favourite DVD, iPad app or toy to provide a distraction.
  • Praise your child when they sit still, but try not to get too stressed when it doesn't go to plan. Better to walk away and come back another day

You can purchase special jugs and brushes online

The tips above can be adapted for being measured for new shoes or any other sensory experience that your child dislikes. 

Natty now so enjoys having her hair played with that she demands that we do it in different hairstyles for her. It certainly has been worth persevering.

Make hairdressing fun with magic brushes and funky hair accessories


  1. Hey Hayley I have followed your posts for a while now. As well ur youtube vids as if provides great tips on how I can best guide my 3 yr old son who is also downs syndrome. Natty seems like a very clever girly and you have done so well. I would like to ask however if natty has any behavioral problems as billy is and I dont know how to combat it as his cognition is of a 18 month old. He gets frustrated very easily as he cant tlk or walk. If u could provide tips I wud be so grateful. Thankyou. Hannah

    1. Natty has and does have periods of frustration Hannah.
      It was eased by being able to communicate through Makaton, which also speeded up her language learning and she's now dropped it. Do you use Makaton or a symbol system at all to help Billy communicate? OUr kids are generally very visual learners.
      Natty used to get quite physical with her school friends but we taught them all to say 'I don't like it when you do that' and turn away, because it seemed she was doing it for the hugs and saying sorry afterwards. She hated being ignored.
      I hope that helps. H x

    2. Yes we have incorporate makaton into our lives and nursery have set targets to help him along. He has mastered the sign drink and can sign more and eat when he wants to but it isnt consistent. He has his own signs for car and ball (beep beep and bounce bounce signs) but he is still highly frustrated and tends to shout and cry more than he is actually happy. I dont like seein him this way and often feel so powerless. And its even worse when taking him out as ppl dont understand and only see a " naughty child"

  2. Yes we have incorporated makaton through portage and nursery have targets set to help and he knows a few signs (drink, more, eat) but the drink one os the only consistant sign. He can be very stubborn. Je is very clever and is progressin well in his own time. Its just that I feel he is constantly crying about something even tho he can point and gesture. He makes up his own signs. For example car he makes a beep beep sign and ball is similar with the bouncing motion.. Thankyou for your help x


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