How to Cut Your Kid’s Hair at Home, According to the Pros

Spoiler: Don't use a bowl.

by Lexi Dwyer
Originally Published: 

Whether you have a toddler with stranger anxiety or you’re currently living under some form of quarantine due to COVID-19, you’re probably trying to figure out how to cut your kid’s hair yourself without giving them a patchy buzz or a hideous bowl cut. The good news is that with the proper tools, you can learn how to cut hair at home — just be realistic about your own limits, and stick to basic styles that will keep things stable until you can take your kid to an actual salon.

“My top rule is to always be what I call ‘scissor shy,'” says stylist Shauney Rivera of Edamama Cute Cuts & More in Brooklyn, “meaning cut less than you think you should be cutting. You can always go back and do more, but if you make it too short, it becomes hard to fix later. Remember,” she adds, “this is about giving them a trim, not a big chop.”

Cozy Friedman, founder and CEO of Cozy’s Cuts for Kids in Manhattan, suggests having some key items handy before you begin. This will keep things moving and reduce the chances of aesthetic error. You’ll also want to cover your floor with newspaper (for easier cleanup) and arm your child with a device so they can watch their favorite show, much as they would in a real kids salon. In this case, distraction is your friend.

Haircutting Tools

Before you start trimming, you’ll want to have a few of these expert-recommended basics on hand. They’ll make the job quicker, easier, and less prone to error.

Some things to keep in mind: You ideally want your child to sit high enough so you’re not straining your back as you work on their hair. If they’re watching a device (which is recommended!), prop that up as well. “Make sure they keep their device at their eye level and look straight — don’t let them look down,” says Rivera.

For a more precise scissor cut, Friedman suggests spritzing hair first, which will make it “less slippery and easier to manage.” If your child has hair that’s long or tends to get knots, a once-over with a detangling spray can help. “Fully detangling the hair before cutting can help,” says Eda Bilir Messner, who owns Edamama, “especially since many of our clients are tender-headed — a gentle combing can help manage their patience.” Note that if you’re using clippers, it’s best to start with dry hair.

How to Cut Your Kid’s Short Hair

Friedman suggests watching this helpful video from Positively Mommy about how to cut short hair. As for whether to cut hair when it’s wet or dry, try meeting in the middle: Damp hair is actually easiest to manage for just about every texture. When hair is wet, it seems much straighter than it actually is in real life, so the finished cut can wind up much shorter than intended.

Get to know your clipper. This should go without saying, but since many of us have likely never actually owned hair clippers until now, be sure to read the instructions carefully. Your clipper will come with attachments (sometimes called safeguards or blades) with corresponding numbers. One is for a total buzz, while the higher numbers will leave hair longer.

“Do not start with less than a four guard, especially if this is your first clipper cut, says Rivera. “Try the length at the back of the head and neck area to see if you like it, since you can always make it shorter.”

When using the clipper, start at the back, working your way up towards the crown, and then finish with the sides to get the most even results. And a friendly note: A lot of kids are particularly ticklish when clippers are being used, so they twitch and move around. That’s when an iPad can be particularly handy.

If you use the clipper with no attachments, well, that’s how you get the bald look. “We sometimes use the clipper on its own to clean up around the ears and hairline,” says Friedman. If you plan on doing that, cut across bottom of your kid’s neckline and create precise, straight lines from the neckline to the ear.

Ask your kiddo to look down. Suggest he put his chin to his chest or look at his knees — this helps smooth out creases in the neck area and creates a more tapered look. (If he’s watching a show, you may need to pause it or put the device on his lap to encourage cooperation.)

Feeling brave? Try blending. It’s perfectly fine to use different attachments for different parts of the head, like shorter on the sides and longer on top, which Friedman calls “soccer player vibes.”

As she explains, “Starting at the bottom, as you get to the line where you want to blend, slowly flick your wrist upward and toward you to graduate the length of the hair, repeating around the head until you are satisfied.”

If you’ve cut the bottom shorter and left the top longer, you can experiment by using a guard that’s midway between the two to blend the area where they meet (basically where the head starts to curve upwards). This may involve a bit of trial and error, but the more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll get.

How to Cut Your Kid’s Long Hair

Friedman recommends this video, which provides a good overview of how to cut long hair. Here are some basic tips:

Divide and conquer. If you have them, use butterfly clips to section long hair into four chunks. First split hair vertically into two halves, then split each of those into two horizontal sections.

Start with one bottom section. With the rest of the hair clipped back, begin to cut one of the bottom sections. Pull the hair taut using two fingers, and snip the hair below.

Let the first section be a guide. You’ll then pull down the other bottom section and cut it so it’s aligned with the first one you did, and then repeat for the top two.

How to Cut Your Kid’s Bangs

  1. Section off the bangs in a triangle and pull back the rest of the hair.
  2. Spritz bangs to dampen them.
  3. As you cut the bangs, never cut them beyond the bottom of the eyebrow. “If the hair is damp, you have to take into account that the hair is going to shrink up and get shorter,” says Friedman, adding, “You can always go back and cut more later.”
  4. Start in the center of the forehead and use that length as a guide, then cut the side pieces to the same length. As you pull the hair down to cut it, hold it loosely, rather than taut, so you don’t cut it too short. Never twist hair or pull it at an angle, or you’ll end up with bangs that curve.
  5. Although you’re holding the hair between your pointer and middle fingers, you can use your other fingers to protect your child’s eye area in case she decides to make a sudden move. You should also ask her to close her eyes during the bang trim to keep stray wisps out.

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