How To Cut Your Kid's Hair

I've always hated haircuts. In high school and university, when I was going for "a look", my hair was the easiest part of the look to get right, and the hardest to hide when it looked wrong. When I found a stylist I liked, I was loyal to him, the way Mark Davis is loyal to his dude. Even now that I'm a dried-up old husk of a dad, with brittle grey hair, I'm fretful under the touch of a new barber.

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It's all because of the Scotch tape.

As a wee lad, my mother would tear off a strip of tape and stick it to the hair covering my eyes. Then she'd cut the tape off. That was the haircut. I looked like, well, Mark Davis. The kids at school were inspired by this haircut, judging by the frequency of their jokes about it. I did not share in their enjoyment.

And that's why I hate receiving haircuts. But I do enjoy giving haircuts to my kids, and as far as I can tell, my handiwork doesn't draw the interest of schoolyard bullies. Here's what I've learned.

Do Your Research

Let's talk about the hair itself. Is yours stick straight, but your kid's is curly? Vice versa? Cutting curly hair is a completely different operation than cutting straight hair. Straight hair lays flat, showing all your mistakes. Curly hair hides mistakes but becomes shorter as it dries, turning your cute bob into a Ronald McDonald.

All artists must educate themselves about the medium in which they work. I've had good luck with forums on Reddit, but if you're averse to that place, look in magazines targeted to the particular demographic you want to learn about.

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Think about the cultural statement your kid's haircut will make. Last summer, my son wanted a buzz cut. He intended to look like a friend of ours, a man who handles his receding hairline by clear cutting the remaining forest. I was savvy enough to realise that I shouldn't allow my son to look like Caillou, but clueless about the compromise we settled on - an undercut. Instead of letting my blond kid look like an annoying cartoon character, I made him look like one of Richard Spencer's pals. If only I'd paid more attention to Macklemore.

The Equipment

You do not need Scotch tape. You need real shears. Not the scissors you use to open a bag of chicken nuggets. Not the blunt, plastic-clad things your kid uses to cut out construction paper hearts.

You can find dozens of shears - even for lefties - online. A word of warning: They will be sharp. Like a lightsaber and a diamond-edged circular saw had a baby. When you cut your child's neck - and you will cut your child's neck at some point - expect to soak through several pieces of gauze.

You need a comb. You need a spray bottle filled with warm water. (Cold water is chilly!) You can buy a barber cape if you want, but a superhero costume cape works just as well. Old towels and pillowcases are good choices if you have binder clips or spring clamps to hold them in place.

Avoid clipper-based haircutting kits at first. The clippers are sized for adults, and it's a little awkward manoeuvring them around tiny, lumpy heads. Plus, a power tool makes a person overzealous. Remember what you did to the shrubbery with the electric hedge trimmer?

Last but not least, you need a device that plays hours of videos. This process may take a while - slow and steady yields better results. Keep your kid stationary and half brain dead with cartoons. Such as Caillou!

The Process

Choose a room that lacks a rug or carpet. It's much easier to clean the impending hairy mess with a broom instead of a vacuum.

Put your eyes on the same level as your kid's head. Many people achieve that by seating the child on a bar stool or a stack of books. But that creates a fall danger, and means that you'll spend a share of your attention watching for a wiggly butt. Instead, put your client in a kid-sized chair or stool and stand on your knees. Use knee pads or a folded up towel if this gets painful.

Gather any drinks, snacks or bandages your kid might need in the next hour or so, and keep them within reach. Make yourself as comfortable and calm as possible. I sweat like a steamfitter when I concentrate on a project, so I cut hair in a T-shirt and shorts.

Finally, fire up the Caillou videos and baptise your child with a fine mist of warm water.

The Technique

There are dozens of haircut tutorials on YouTube. I like this one, but you should watch a bunch. Note the techniques used by the stylists. Which ones seem most intuitive to you? How likely are you to be able to reproduce a particular cut?

Don't watch too much! As a novice, it's easy to feel overconfident. Show me a few gallbladder surgery videos, and I'm ready to scrub in. But once I'm holding the scalpel, things get messy. It's the same with haircuts.

Here's some general advice:

  • Err on the side of length. Taking more off is a cinch. Putting it back on, not so much.
  • Work in stages, moving from one part of the head to the next. Step back and look at the whole picture, to see how different areas blend together.
  • Don't put your shears away until the hair dries, when you'll notice odd strands that need snipped.
  • Listen to your kids and give them the cut they ask for. If the mirror shows that you've missed your mark, get back to work.
  • When cutting bangs, don't sneeze!


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