Working as a hairdresser for 41 years, Sue Ellen Irwin has seen plenty of terrified kids walk into her Indiana salon.
“One little boy dug his heels into the leather chair so hard that he ripped it,” Irwin says. “My chair still has the marks. When they’re that terrified, you really can’t cut their hair.”
Irwin wanted to find a way help them feel less afraid. So she went searching for books on the subject. Although there were plenty of books about how to help kids overcome their fear of the dentist and the doctor, she couldn’t find anything that dealt with the fear of getting a haircut.
“There was nothing that helped a child understand what happens in the shop,” she said.
So she started playing around with her own book, coming up with “Shorten Me Up.” The book follows Mary on her first trip to the salon, and all the fun people she meets there.
“She learns how much you see and experience at a hair salon,” says Irwin, who drew the book’s pictures herself.
Initially her plan was to do the book for her own shop and others in the Lafayatte area. But her clients urged her to get it published for beauty shops nationwide.
She found a publisher in nearby Bloomington, Ind., and “Shorten Me Up” was published in February. It has been a hit with salon owners around the country.
Irwin believes there are several relatively simple things a parent can do to reduce the fear associated with a haircut. First of all, don’t call it a cut.
“Kids associate cuts with pain,” she says.
They also should prepare them for what they’ll experience when they go into the shop – the smell of hair products, the sound of blow dryers, etc. She always portrays the hairdresser as a fun person who will make them feel better.
“Kids fear the unknown,” she says.
Irwin hasn’t stopped with one book. Other books in her growing collection include “Cut it Out,” a book about a little boy who unsuccessfully throws a fit at a hair salon so he doesn’t have to get his hair cut; “A Little Off the Ears,” for little boys who fear getting their hair cut; “Breanna’s Braids,” about a little girl who is a flower girl in a wedding; and her latest, “Hair Buzz,” filled with fun facts about hair and proper hair care. All the characters in her books are inspired by her children and grandchildren.
Although she has enjoyed writing the books, Irwin has no plans to quit her day job at Unique Styling to become a full-time author.
“I’m not writing anymore,” Irwin says. “That’s it.”