I made a critical parenting error several years ago. I let the hairdresser talk me into restraining B on my lap while she tried to cut her hair. Hmmm… a sharp pair of scissors + screaming, thrashing child = all kinds of stupid. Leaving with one side quite a bit shorter than the other was the best case scenario.
In retrospect, I’m sure the big chair, strange women in smocks and tray of tools on the shelf reminded her of the lab. A frequent flier in the blood test game, she was already pre-disposed to hate doctors, dentists and white leather recliners. Unfortunately, this experience added “Hair Cuts” to the list of things to despise. Her reaction from that day forward involved kicking, screaming and wedging her body in the doorway of every hair salon we tried to take her to.
The next few years, we trimmed as best we could at home. A full hair cut could take weeks to finish – a snip here and a snip there, trying to even it out as quickly as possible, before the crying and head thrashing began. Sitting up with a snack, in the bath… I even found myself sneaking into her bedroom at night with a pair of scissors (yes, after typing that out, I realize how creepy it sounds).
Finally, my hairdresser (and friend) Rhianna came to our rescue. We slowly introduced her to the idea. At first she simply came and watched me get my hair done. Then, watching her sisters and sitting in the chair. Once she sat up and had a clip put in her hair. Each visit ended on a positive note; that was the key. At the first sign of trouble, Rhianna backed off. It was a good experience.
We didn’t push her and one magical day, she sat up and had her bangs trimmed quite happily. And then the next time, the whole enchilada! All that attention from the ladies in the salon and, later, from everyone who appreciates her funky pixie “do” have done wonders. In the space of a year, she became not only cooperative, but THRILLED to get her hair cut.
She was singing in the car, SO excited to see Miss Rhianna and telling me how “pitty” her haircut would be. But we hit a speed bump along the way. For some reason, though she has done it several times before, she decided she was NOT going to get her hair washed.
I told her that she had to get her hair washed (or even wet down) so that it could be cut. I made it very clear. She was unwilling to budge. I had chosen my battle.
I’m not opposed to the occasional change of mind as a parent, but I was sure we could get this done. I dug deep into my rather large arsenal of parental manipulation. Every lady in the place (including the one with foils in her hair) offered a suggestion, or 10. We tried it all.
I let her choose – which chair do you want to sit in? which shampoo? who do you want to do the washing? I gave her control – climb up yourself, tell me when you are ready, you hold the shampoo. I set the example – close watching while both sisters had their hair washed, then I stuck my own hair in the sink and even got it wet (I straightened my hair today, so this is one of the greatest examples of maternal love in the modern world). I talked it through – reason, logic, persuasion, outright begging. I offered bribes – chocolate granola bars, a new clip for her hair; I literally held a lollipop over her head to get her to put it back. Rhianna made it a game – lots of counting, tickling, fun things to look at. I played it cool – “it’s up to you, wash and cut or we can just go home,” then tried to look bored and unconcerned. I tried to make it happen – picked her up, put her in the chair and held her head back (for about 2 seconds when she started freaking). I let it go – “okay, let’s go home;” then she would call me back and get close, so very close to actual H2O, and it would all start again.
“I dunno. I dunno. I DON’T KNOW!” – her answer to every other question.
The other answer, her favourite word – “nnnnnnnoooooooo! NOOOOOOOOO! nnnnnnooooo!”
She didn’t want to get her hair wet, but she wanted to get her hair cut so badly.
If we hadn’t come so very close, so many times, I would have given up much sooner. As it was, she left with a wet shirt, 3 clumps of damp hair and a grumpy, grumpy mom. Only B can take 2 hours to NOT get a haircut.
All this on the same day as our IEP meeting with her teachers, where we discussed her recent bathroom strike. After months of staying dry, she now refuses to even try on a regular basis. At home, the bathroom is going well, but tooth brushing has become an epic battle of wills (and ultimately a headlock and quick swish, swish… since dental hygeine is not remotely optional). This is our life.
I try to remember that determination (a much nicer way to say stubborn) can be a strength for a child with special needs. I have no doubt she will need every little bit of it to succeed in this world. And I’m not going to lie, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. We’re pretty sure B’s personal motto is: You Can’t Make Me, But I Might Be Persuaded (also the title of a book by Cynthia Tobias).
If parenting B has taught me anything, it is this: There are certain things you CANNOT force a child to do, no matter how much you want to. There are tricks and techniques, but ultimately you cannot MAKE them eat, pee, blow their nose, sincerely apologize or, apparently, cooperate with the hairdresser.
So here’s me, and this is my inconvenient truth.
Can you think of anything else you cannot force anyone to do? Have you ever tried?
Also, thank you Rhianna, Kristen, Sasha and lady getting the foils in the next chair, for all your help this afternoon!