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How to Cut a Child’s Hair

For the past three years, I cut Toby’s hair myself. But I had no clue what I was doing! He would end up with shaggy hair and Dumb-and-Dumber bangs. Thankfully, this weekend, my friend Reagan, a hair stylist, agreed to teach me…

This is the tangled mess we were working with. I would literally cut off tangles every few days, resulting in bald patches at the back of his head!

Our handy list of tools: a blanket and clothespin to cover him up, a spray bottle of water, a comb, cutting shears and a Trader Joe’s lollipop. And we washed his hair with Honest shampoo, conditioner and used their genius conditioning mist, which detangles hair and calms cowlicks.

Reagan started by spritzing his hair with water. And I learned my first lesson: Toby didn’t like getting his hair sprayed and asked Reagan to stop—so she stopped immediately and said she could cut his hair mostly dry. “If you start off on the wrong foot with children, you can’t build back their trust,” she explained. “Scissors shape the hair more easily if it’s wet, but no worries if the kid doesn’t want to do that!”

She explained that a haircut is a collaborative effort between you and the child. “No kid’s haircut is ever perfect,” she laughed. “They’re wriggly, they’re restless, so you have to move quickly and do what you can.”

We also kept Toby entertained with the strawberry lollipop, Peppa Pig videos on my phone and lots of impromptu singing and dancing. Reagan asked him to get his wiggles out in the photo above, and it worked!

Three tips from Reagan:

1. Start around the ears because that’s when the child will be calmest. You want to be really careful around the ears, so you don’t cut them.

2. Take vertical sections (parallel to the wall, not the floor). And then cut with your scissors at a 11 o’clock angle, versus parallel to your fingers. This technique allows for mistakes, blends the hair and helps it grow in more nicely. Otherwise, if you cut parallel to your fingers, you’ll end up with one thick blunt panel.

3. You establish your lengths with the first section you cut. Then, as you start working around the head, you can take a little bit of your previous section as your guideline, so you know how short to go.

(If you’re cutting a girl’s hair, part the hair in the middle, pull everything to the back and then just cut a pretty straight line—with your scissors at 11 o’clock, like above, so it has a soft, textured line. Cut the back first, and whatever is in front of the ears and forward, you can pull straight down to the sides and connect with the back hair to make sure it’s even.)

To cut bangs, pull them straight down and cut at 11 o’clock. “Easy does it,” says Reagan. “I’d rather cut the bangs a couple times to get it right, versus accidentally cutting them too short.”

Afterward, I sprayed his cute cut with some Honest conditioning mist to keep it detangled and silky. (I actually use this on my own hair now, too!)

Meanwhile, Anton was totally entranced by his big brother. (And how awesome are those bike diapers?!! I love them so much.)

Well done, Tobes!

Do you cut your child’s hair? Any tips (or funny stories) to share? I used to cut it in the bathtub and would lean all the way over Toby to get to the other side of his head—totally treacherous!

Thank you to The Honest Company for sponsoring this post. Honest makes natural baby, bath and cleaning products, which we love and use every day for our family. How cute are their spring diapers? I love the giraffes.

Bonus for all readers: Get 30% off your first-time purchase with the code JOSAVE30 (limited to shop orders only; one per customer). Applies to U.S. and Canadian residents. Good until March 31st.

P.S. Four hair tutorials for little girls.

(Photos by Alpha Smoot for Cup of Jo. Hair tips by Reagan Baker. This post is sponsored by The Honest Company, whose mission I adore. Thank you so much for supporting the sponsors that make Cup of Jo possible.)

  1. Thank you so much for posting these tips. We have an almost 3 year old and 6 month old boys. My oldest has thick coarse hair (I have naturally curly… poor guy). I am excited to try the clay, you mentioned, to keep it in place. Also, if you have any tips on what to tell the stylist when they are cutting his hair. He’s had a few bad ones that make him look like one of the stooges 😬

  2. Adrien says...

    I just cut my son’s hair this weekend! He’s 16 months old and had this baby soft mullet which would get the nastiest knots in it. I wish I’d found this blog post earlier. I started with my eye brow scissors (since they would be sharpest – as an professional amateur I know the importance of sharp shears) and dad’s comb, then I chased him around a waterless water table outside to create less of a mess and have him occupied, before transferring him inside to his highchair where we made a mess, and I snipped away at his dry mullet and my finger simultaneously (successfully missing his ears though!). Needless to say I will be ordering proper shears off Amazon and cannot wait to try these new techniques out at his next visit to Salon du Mom :) xo

  3. Omg, lifesaver! I’ve been an avid reader for years, so imagine my reaction when, after a year of funky DIY toddler haircuts, I found this tutorial via a google search: of COURSE Joanna has the perfect little boy haircut tutorial! Thank you!

  4. catherine says...

    For folks confused about the 11oclock bit…I think it’s that we’re looking at it from the opposite direction as the stylist is. So to us of the hand is 12 o’clock, it looks like the scissors are 1oclock, but we are seeing from behind! From the stylists point of view, it is 11 o’clock (and we could argue that maybe it is 9 or 10 o’clock, but she is aiming for 11).

  5. Kohinut says...

    Amazing post !

  6. Meg says...

    Great post! I have been cutting my sons hair since he was 1 (he is 2 now) and I had never cut anyones hair before. I follow the same steps and remember to hold hair at the 45 angle so no blunt cuts. I set him up on a tall stool at the counter and give him play dough to entertain him and my husband keeps him focused. I don’t wet the hair cause it’s too distracting I just get into it without really bringing attention to it. I think the hardest part is the bangs and the cowlick front sides. I give him a bath right after and I don’t use any products during cut just comb it first – thanks for your helpful pics!!

  7. I think the hardest part of cutting my own child’s hair is the fact that he never sits still. It would be wonderful to give him an actual uniform cut for once. Maybe if I apply some of your tips I can give him a hair cut that really works for him.
    Cynthia | http://tsubame-us.com/scissors

  8. I found this quite helpful for cutting my kid’s hair, but you might think about rewording “If you’re cutting a girl’s hair” to “If you’re cutting long hair.” My daughter’s hair is the same length as your son’s. :-)

  9. Hair is surely one of the most important and essential aspects or attributes of a human’s beauty look and represents personality among others. We like to provide whatever you expect from a perfect hair salon.

  10. Where do you buy Anton’s clothing? It looks so comfy and minimal. I have a 6-month-old and am in the market for cute stuff. BTW, you have the cutest boys!

  11. I cut my little boy’s hair too, and always re-read the following link (found on Pinterest, of course!) before I start. It has a great hand-drawn graphic that says to cut the sides at a 45 degree angle and the top at a 90 degree angle. The sides definitely work, but I’ve never mastered the top. Anyway, maybe this will be helpful for those for whom the 11 o’clock thing is confusing!

    http://heavenlyhomemakers.com/how-to-cut-boys-hair-like-a-pro

    • I use the same site! Great visual:) I find the top hardest too. The 11 o’clock I think refers to the angle you hold the scissors at the 45 so you avoid the blunt look

  12. Beautiful post Joanna, great advice :)

  13. Fabulous post! I’m also confused about the angle though, and would love to see a diagram. I totally want to try this! :)

  14. This is really helpful. I cut my husband’s hair and I cut my 2 1/2 year old’s as well (although, he has only needed two hair cuts as his hair took forever to grow in!).
    The first time I cut my son’s hair I wanted to keep the cute little swathe of bangs that had grown. So, I wrapped some tape around them near the top where I thought the bang line should be and cut above it. Oops! Way way too short. But, I did get a nice little bit to keep and remember his baby hair with.
    I also used some clippers on his hair the second time I cut it – just around the back and up the sides and then used scissors to cut the top and keep it styled.
    These tips are so helpful – hopefully they’ll mean that my 7 month old won’t have quite a hilarious first hair cut story as my eldest, because I’ll know better what I’m doing!

  15. Thanks for the tips. I cut both my boys hair this afternoon and they both look great! The 11 o’clock rule really works well. Thanks so much! Perfect timing!

    • Emily says...

      where did you get this chair? my son is autistic and i’m trying to be able to do his hair on my own and that would work perfectly.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thanks for your note! it’s a stokke chair. xo

  16. I cut my 18 month old son’s hair while he’s sitting in his high chair. I give him a brand new “toy” (can be any kitchen gadget or trinket, not necessarily an actual toy, as long as it’s something he’s never seen before). He goes bananas for the new toy and while he’s playing I go to town with a comb and scissors! I cut it dry (he hates getting sprayed with water). Make sure you get high quality hair cutting scissors! If he’s too wiggly and I’m in a big rush, I forget about the comb and just use my index and forefinger to grab sections of hair. He gets a great cut and barely knows I’m there! Side note: Joanna, thank you for your fabulous blog, it’s my favorite!

  17. Adorable! My 12 year old brother was growing a pretty wild looking mullet and explained it was because he didn’t trust hairdressers after 1 too many unwanted ceasar cuts. He let me do it and was thrilled with the result! He even took a selfie to show his friends hehe. cute post!
    Dakota
    http://dakotabee.wordpress.com/

  18. This is so helpful, but I am also confused by the 11 o’clock thing. It looks like the scissors are at two or three! Or pointed at 7… But not 11!

  19. Those 2 dudes look totally edible, but why don’t you just take them to a hairdresser ? So much easier !

  20. Your Dumb and Dumber link was hilarious. Laughed out loud at work. I don’t have kiddos yet (someday…) but this is very sound advice! I agree with Court. :)

  21. love this post, and it’s perfect timing. I am planning to cut my daughter’s hair for the first time before her 3year birthday next month. Thanks!

  22. In my country we never cut a child’s -even baby- hair at home. They are taken within weeks to the baby hairstylist. Amazing that you guys do it at home.

  23. My Mom always cut our hair as kids. I didn’t go to a salon for a cut until I was well into high school!

    She thought it was such a waste of time to drag us three girls down to a hair place where she knew we wouldn’t behave and get our money’s worth on a pro cut. So she got a book from the library about “how to cut children’s hair,” some sharp scissors from the fabric store, and that was it!

  24. Adorable! I’m one more confused 11 o’clock person, though. Even if the hand holding the hair is noon, based on the photos that seems like the cut is happening anywhere from 1-3 o’clock. Wouldn’t 11 be closer to the head than noon is? A diagram really would be helpful! I have a little guy Anton’s age, and keep meaning to order some honest co. dipes.

  25. SO USEFUL. Thank you!!!

  26. I agree with Analilly…the pictures don’t match the description. Great post and I love Toby’s haircut. I cut my boys’ hair in fits & starts and would love to do a full-on haircut in one sitting. I’m trying to visualize 11 o’clock and in my experience, I’d say I cut the back & sides at 2 o’clock, but the front at 11 o’clock. So does it depend if you are right or left handed? And the one photo shows cutting IN to the hair in the back…or so it appears. Any clarification would be great! Thanks for the post.

  27. Cutest kids! Also, I would love to know where your jeans are from too!

  28. I have cut my son´s hair for 3 years, then i took him to the hairdressing, First time he put on his hood and said : i do not want to cut my hair!
    But the hair dresser started telling a story of Pirates and now he loves going to have his hair cut.

  29. I wish there was a better photo of what the 11 o’clock scissor angle is. It looks like she’s at a 9 o’clock angle in the photos? Should we be cutting up or down at the correct angle?

  30. I wish there was a better photo of what the 11 o’clock scissor angle is. It looks like she’s at a 9 o’clock angle in the photos? Should we be cutting up or down at the correct angle?

  31. My brother cuts my three year old daughter’s hair. She holds still and listens to him like she never would her mommy or daddy. She also loves that we let her watch a show that is reserved especially for haircuts. We also use warm water in the spray bottle, and let her hold it for the duration of the haircut. She loves to drink out of it. To date, she loves her haircuts, because it is a special event with her uncle. My brother doesn’t seem to mind, and did a lovely, and complicated, a-line style hair cut on my daughter a few months ago, that she never would have sat still for in a salon.

  32. Thanks so much for this great and helpful post. I’m a little confused about the 11′ clock tip too. If the finger holding the hair is at 12 then isn’t she cutting more like 3 o’clock. And is it true that she isn’t really cutting in a straight light but little angles so if you looked at it when she was done there would almost be little triangles? I really want to figure this out as I cut my whole families hair and could use all the help I could get. Oh and I love the honest company too. Just ordered diapers for the new babe coming in a few weeks. Thanks so much for your wonderful blog.

  33. Thanks so much for this great and helpful post. I’m a little confused about the 11′ clock tip too. If the finger holding the hair is at 12 then isn’t she cutting more like 3 o’clock. And is it true that she isn’t really cutting in a straight light but little angles so if you looked at it when she was done there would almost be little triangles? I really want to figure this out as I cut my whole families hair and could use all the help I could get. Oh and I love the honest company too. Just ordered diapers for the new babe coming in a few weeks. Thanks so much for your wonderful blog.

  34. Oh my! I LOVE Toby’s faces while getting his haircut!! Not to mention Anton… what adorably chubby legs!

    I used to hate getting my haircut done as a little girl… in fact I hated it until I was 16 hahaha!

  35. PS: I’m. so. Tired!

  36. Loyal reader looking for a few answers re: Anton’s sleep training! I’m a mom of two boys, the second is 5.75 months and EBF. Still up every 3 hours or even 2, I’m ready to train and know you wrote about it but can’t find the day! Or maybe you’d be willing to answer my questions! And most of all how did Anton’s cries not wake Toby during the CIO?!

  37. Every summer my mum would give me a super short bowl cut with an uneven fringe and I hated having it done. If I came home and saw the little chair she always used sitting in front of the TV, I knew it was time.

  38. will keep this in mind for when I end up cutting my son’s hair… He has really unruly hair right now but I can’t bring myself to chop his little blonde curls. He’s 13 months and have been contemplating cutting it myself or taking him to get it cut… the only problem is trying to keep him still! Toby seemed to keep it together well and Anton is such a super cutie!

  39. Anton looks so strong! He looks as if he were ready for his first steps!
    I’ve never cut my kids’ hair, and I don’t know anyone who does. HEre, we take them to the hairdresser’s whose job it is, and it’s usually perfect. I took my son there when he was 8 or 9 months old, and there was no need for entertainment, looking at himself in the giant mirror was great!

  40. This is totally irrelevant to haircut post but HOW CUTE ARE ANTON’s CHUNKY THIGHS! I love all the folds (Scuse the gushing!!) *squish*

  41. I just gave my three year old her first hair cut using the creaclip. I also use it to cut my own hair. :) Total do-it-myselfer right here. Toby’s hair looks so nice. Reminds me of my little brother’s hair back in the day – pure and sweet. ;)

  42. My mum used to cut my little brother’s hair while he was asleep. She’d manage to cut one side, then have to come back on subsequent nights for a go at the other.

  43. Basically from age one to age 4, I cut my daughters bangs. At first, it was a freaking wreck and everyone would let me know but I kept progressively getting better. Near the end, people thought I actually started going to a hair dresser.

    But great post. Cutting hair is a b*tch.

    Aleisha
    buttonforabird.blogspot.com

  44. Such a sweet post!!
    Joanna – would you mind sharing what lipstick you are wearing?

  45. Lol, Petra, I also thought that “blanket” looked a lot like a tallis!

  46. I’m so happy to read this post!! I have been cutting my son Charlie’s hair for 3 years now too. It’s so stressful! He used to have these cute curls so my cuts were very forgiving. However the curls are now gone (so sad) and I was about to give up and head over to a salon. I’m going to give it another shot this week. I try and cut his hair after bath time in his room and it’s always such a mess. I’m always trying to do it as quickly as possible because I know I only have a short window of time before he wants to wiggle away. I’m definitely trying Peppa Pig — it’s one of his new favorite shows!

  47. Joanna, would you mind saying what kind of case that is on your phone in the picture where Toby’s holding it? I happened to notice because I’m in the market and have a little one now. That one looks like it might be kid-appropriate without also swallowing the phone completely…?

  48. I cut my daughter’s hair over the course of a couple of baths. She’s pretty chill in the tub so I was able to do the back and around the ears the first day, and the top and sides the second time.
    I was lucky enough to grow out a pixi cut a couple of years ago so I knew what kind of angles I was going for, plus her curls hide a LOT of flaws :D

  49. Looking good, Toby! :D

  50. This is totally irrelevant to haircut post but HOW CUTE ARE ANTON’s CHUNKY THIGHS! I love all the folds (Scuse the gushing!!) *squish*

  51. Hi Joanna-fabulous post with great tips! On an unrelated note, where did you get your jeans? Love them!

  52. I wonder if it’s appropriate to apply this to “how to cut your boyfriend’s hair” … We will see.

    visit me at june lorraine xx

  53. Oh man I wish I read these tips LAST week. My lil one has a mullet. I keep saying its ok. But it’s definitely a mullet :)

  54. Oh as a side note, He did get his hair cut at a kid’s hair cuttery from about 18 mos – 3 years. They have special seats, a personal TV and get a ballon and lollipop at the end. I did this because when I was a nanny I took my little charge that was about 2 to a place that was touted as a kid’s place but she used this huge, sharp piinty scissor and he kept moving his head to see the scissors and she cut this huge gouge slice in her hand and was bleeding everywhere! I was traumatized. At about 3 my son was still enough for 5 minutes:) and could decide if he wanted to go to a place or have me do it. With me, he doesnt have to wait…his least favorite thing!

  55. Yes! I do. I have gotten it cut but they dont do a better job than me so…I usually buzz it, I use guides 1 and 2 with a weight line – being a child of the 80s I cant help myself or in the heat of summer I dont use one but this doent turn out as well. My son actually requested I cut it because the last two people Ipaid, one hurt him by doing the clipper too hard and the other CUT HIS THUMB by not paying attention to where her clippers were! So…some tips. Do it dry! Make kid wear a cape – dress up capes work too but dont always cover the front. Good clippers are a worthwhile investment, get small one for around ears and neckline to make it even. Also small sharp scissors to cut npanye rrant long hairs. Corn starch is just like powder…brush it alone the neckline to clean off extra hairs – again naked children just means a super messy, itchy, annoying experience for everyone! Make sure to use sunscreen on their head if its very short. If you want spiky hair (my son had a mohawk for a short time) this japanese hair gel is the best – got it on amazon. My son’s hair just has too many cowlicks to fight with for any lenght plus it grows SO fast, he has to get it cut almost monthly.

  56. emily, a garbage bag is a great tip too. and susan, i’m going to look for blunt-edged scissors. thanks for all of this advice!!

  57. @mejustme, that is a brilliant tip!! going to try it next time :)

  58. My mom gave me some pretty hilarious mullets back in the day. The worst was in 5th grade she chopped off my beautiful long locks into a chin-length bob. I’ve honestly never recovered. She still cuts all the guys’ hair in my family… but once I could afford a legit haircut with my babysitting money I’ve never looked back!

  59. Love this post and great tips. I originally did scissors and comb with my little guy, but by about 2 1/2 years old it got to be a big job somehow to sit through. I cut it dry. Then I switched to clippers and I get the cut done in just a few minutes. But he doesn’t like the buzz, and sometimes really complains. I can set it fairly long, then I follow up with the scissors to perfect around the ears, bangs, neckline. Great for cutting my husband’s hair, too. The clipper kit came with a blunt-nosed pair of scissors, and shorter than my regular pair of hair scissors. So that is a plus. Much safer with kids than wielding the pointed ones. So that is my big tip: try to get the blunt-nosed scissors. I might go back to scissors and comb because my little guy is almost 4 and may not squirm so much now. My nanny in the past helped me to distract him; we’d sit at the table so he could have his trucks or cars to look at and talk about during the ordeal. He also dislikes the clean-up afterward, but won’t wear a cape. It’s basically a job for 2 adults. Maybe his baby sister will be easier. Love to try out the girl cut tips. I’ve already cut her bangs once. Love the shots of Anton and those legs!!! Toby is entrancing.

  60. jm says...

    What a great post! Thanks for the tips and the cute pictures of your boys.

  61. Anton cracks me up—so serious and chubs.

  62. I have kind of a weird tip. We used to paint my nephews toenails when my mom would cut his hair. He was fascinated by it and it would cut down on the wiggliness.

  63. i never comment, but i have to laugh. i needed this so badly!

    we have our first boy and i cut his hair for the first time which my husband coined the “homeschool” hair cut. hahaha. no offense to homeschoolers : )

  64. I’ve cut my husband’s hair but can’t imagine cutting the hair of a squirmy kid! Loved this post. And the photos of little Anton- so adorable!

  65. We used to have to hold my little sister’s head because she would always fall asleep getting her hair cut – every. single. time!

  66. Aww, Anton is an adorable baby and I love how he is right beside his big bro, Tobey! So much cuteness.

  67. Can you tell Toby that all his friends think he looks so handsome?!

  68. Great post Joanna!
    My husband cuts both our son’s and his own hair but I get blamed if there are any flaws because people assume I do it!

    Now, I can give it a go!

  69. That post is a godsend, thanks so much for the tips! Apparently, I’m doing everything wrong, apart from the lolipop (trusted method)!

  70. I am too nervous to cut my kids hair…so off they go to the local barber (ages 2 1/2 and 4). They both were born with tons of hair that just kept growing so they’re used to getting it cut. The youngest still sits on my lap but my daughter is good on her own.

  71. I was just talking about cutting kids hair with my friend yesterday! And for some reason both our older boys have shorter attention spans to sit through the haircut than our younger ones. I always cut my boys hair in the shower (with a garbage bag cut flat as a mat). Then when we’re done I roll up the hair in the garbage bag, throw it away, and the boys are already in the shower ready to wash off those little itchy hairs they hate.

    Thanks for the 11 o’clock tip!

  72. My son is 8 & I always cut his hair!

    For his very first haircut I took him to a child’s salon but after that I have always done it myself – and he loves it! I’m not sure if he realises that children can actually go to the hairdressers LOL!

    I cut it after bathtime, always when it’s wet & so far we haven’t had any disasters! I used to cut my daughter’s hair when she was young too.

    Love all your photos, Toby is SO like you :)