A well-executed first haircut can set a positive foundation for future haircuts.
For many parents, their baby's first trip to the hair salon can be an exciting, yet anxiety-ridden experience.
"It's uncharted territory for parents," says Cozy Friedman, who owns three Cozy's Cuts for Kids salons/toy stores in New York City.
That's especially true if the kid has curly hair and the parent has straight hair. There are a lot of unknowns. But if done right, it can set a positive foundation for a child's feelings about future haircuts, as well as their hair.
One of the biggest questions for many parents is when to get the first haircut. Some believe you should wait until their first birthday.
"There are no rules," says Jody Mackenzie, owner of Banana's Salon in Fort Myers, Fla. "You should get their hair cut when you think they need that first haircut."
If it's growing horizontal rather than vertical, or getting in their eyes, it's probably a sign that the time has come.
Then it's important to find the right place to get that first cut. Kids aren't necessarily welcome at every hair salon, so make sure the place you choose knows how to work with children and understands the difference between baby and adult hair. Many parents -- and children -- favor children's salons. In addition to being designed around the needs of children, they usually are chemical free.
At Cozy's Cuts for Kids, children sit in a jeep, watch a video or play their favorite video game. There are balloons, lollipops, free toys and all the bubbles they can blow. When getting that first cut, the child receives a "First Haircut Certificate" with a keepsake lock of hair.
"My goal was to make it a place to feel really happy," Friedman says.
At Yellow Balloon in Studio City, Calif., there is a popcorn machine, a large play area with a mini-arcade and miniature toy boxes at each salon chair.
"Our stylists have had years of experience with children before coming here," says assistant manager Christina Kirilova. "They entertain the kids with stories, toys and even magic tricks so they forget why they are here."
For the baby's first haircut, the Yellow Balloon includes a framed Polaroid picture commemorating the occasion, a certificate and a lock of the baby's hair in a special envelope.
Maria Navarro of Classic Kids Hairstyling in Camarillo, Calif., puts colorful gel in little boys' hair, and does special braids or twists in little girls' hair.
"You want them to feel special," Navarro says.
At Houston's Playhouse Cuts, the stylists sing and dance and play with the kids to make them feel at ease. They also understand the limitations of their young clients.
"You have to have patience," George says. "A kid's tolerance isn't that long. Even though they're moving and wiggling, you have to keep going or you'll never finish."
Before ever getting the first cut, try to take the child by the salon before the day of the actual cut to make them feel more at ease.
"Even a walk-through prepares them for it," Friedman says.
Over time, it's best to stick with the same stylist. That way, the child will develop a comfort level, and the stylist will understand the needs of the growing child.
When it comes to cutting curls, it's a good idea to ask for a stylist who is experienced in working with curly or kinky hair. Make sure the stylist understands that curly hair shrinks - as much as three to four inches. The right cut depends on the texture of the child's hair.
"There is no one perfect haircut for every child," Friedman says.
Often the stylist will work with the parent on a strategy for their child's hair, especially if the baby's hair is just coming in.
It may mean cutting the bottom layer over time to let the newer, top layer grow to the same length.
"Have a goal, especially for the first time," Friedman says. "It's setting the groundwork for years to come."
With curlier or kinky hair, stay away from bangs, says Jami Walker of the Hairy Elephant in Ballwin, Mo. "They just kink up too much," Walker says.
Bangs can be a big commitment, and can be difficult to grow out. Many stylists encourage the parent to work on growing the child's hair to one length or long layers. Be an active part of your child's haircut.
"You may want a bob, but every stylist has a different interpretation of what a bob is," Friedman says. "Be very descriptive. Bring pictures."
Make sure you're realistic about what you want. If your child has tight curls, a pageboy haircut probably isn't the right cut.
Finally, remember that the first haircut is a chance to make your child feel good about the experience, and about their hair. If the parent is anxious or talks about the hair as if it's a problem, the baby picks up on it.
"Parents forget that children are sponges," Friedman says.
Tips for the First Haircut
1. Always make an appointment. Otherwise, the child may have to wait.
2. Try to get the first appointment of the day so the child can get in and out.
3. Stay away from the word "haircut." That can be scary for children, who associate cuts with pain. Instead, use the word trim.
4. Bring snacks. A hungry child is unlikely to cooperate.
5. Take the child at a time when they're most relaxed. For some it might be after a nap. For others, it might be right before a nap.