How to cut your child’s hair: simple tips from a pro

Taking a toddler to the hairdresser? Many parents prefer to save the money and reach for the scissors themselves. Often with hair-raising results. We spoke to master hairdresser Roman Bartl to find out how it’s done properly.

There will come a time when your toddler can barely see out from underneath an untamed mop of hair. That’s when you will have to make a decision: give hairdressing a go or leave it to the pros? You might remember the pudding basin haircut your parents gave you back in the day. A memory that could have the power to push you towards seeking out a pro instead of snipping away at your offspring’s locks yourself. Or maybe thinking back doesn’t trigger a deep-seated childhood trauma in you. This would speak in favour of reaching for a pair of scissors yourself – ideally with a little help from a pro. Roman Bartl, for example.

He’s been a master hairdresser with his own salon in Hamburg for over 30 years. For about two years, he’s been showing parents how to properly cut their children’s hair in video tutorials. In an interview via video call, he speaks to me about traumatic haircutting experiences and his business idea. He explains how I should hold the scissors. And tells me that preparation is much more important than the cutting process.

Too short, crooked, too straight, too layered – so many kids’ haircuts have gone wrong. Roman Bartl, is it really a good idea to encourage parents to cut hair?
Roman Bartl: I’ve heard many stories about traumatic or dramatic childhood haircutting experiences from my clients. The majority of parents simply don’t know the first thing about cutting hair. And how should they? Most tutorials available online are by amateurs and tend to be difficult to understand. This gave me the final push to finally launch «Kids-Haircuts» – an idea I developed 20 years ago. With all the years of hairdressing experience I have, I want to show parents how they can learn to cut their children’s hair in simple steps.

Aren’t you shooting yourself in the foot? For just under five euros, you’re telling people why they should stop coming by in person.
The videos will never replace a pro. They’re just there to help. Firstly, parents will often do some DIY snipping anyway, and secondly, cutting kids’ hair isn’t exactly big business. Everyone in hairdressing knows how stressful it is to have a screaming toddler sitting in their salon chair. Many kids feel more at ease when they’re having their hair cut in an environment that’s familiar to them.

Roman Bartl (52) from Hamburg creates haircutting tutorials for parents.
Roman Bartl (52) from Hamburg creates haircutting tutorials for parents.
Image: Kids-Haircuts

I’m the type of parent who wouldn’t go near their children’s hair.
You’re not alone. Did you ever have a bad experience?

Not with my parents, but a neighbour once gave me a terrible haircut when I was small. I don’t want to put my kids through that.
That’s another kind of block I’d like to resolve with the tutorials. After all, there’s nothing that can really go wrong. Anyone can do it. As long as you follow the most important tips.

What tips?
My mantra is: better leave it too long twice than cut it too short once. The shorter the hair, the more difficult and demanding. The truth is the most important thing happens before the actual haircut. Nailing how to use the comb and brush is half the battle.

Y.S. Park Y.S. Cutting comb No. 335 red

Y.S. Park Y.S. Cutting comb No. 335 red

What exactly does that mean?
It’s incredibly important to know how to hold a comb and scissors the right way. And how to cut the hair without having to put the comb down in between. A beginner will hold the scissors like paper scissors. That doesn’t work. You always hold haircutting scissors with your ring finger. This takes a bit of practice.

Are there any other classic haircutting mistakes parents tend to make?
Many wet their child’s hair before cutting and are surprised when the fringe turns out much shorter than expected. Wet hair contracts after drying. That’s why it’s always better to cut dry hair. What’s more, you usually hold the scissors and trim the hair from left to right or vice versa when you’re cutting a fringe. This makes it look less harsh. Ideally, you’ll cut vertically from the bottom to the top. This is called point cutting and makes the lines look softer.

Hold your scissors vertically: this is how a pro cuts fringes.
Hold your scissors vertically: this is how a pro cuts fringes.

What’s the biggest challenge when you cut children’s hair?
Only having a limited amount of time in which the child is sitting still. And keeping them relaxed at the same time. If you’re stressed, they will immediately pick up on that. It’s best to create an environment that will make the child feel at ease before you start. Cutting hair has a lot to do with trust. Make a positive ritual out of it!

Could you give us an example?
For example, cut the tips once a month and include a head massage before you start. Or pop your child in front of a mirror so they know what’s going on. Another possibility is to have a third person read a story during this time. It can also be helpful to give your child a couple of head massages and a comb before going in with the scissors. Just to get your kid used to the procedure. It’s easiest when your child is very small, about one year old. That’s when you can start with a slow introduction. Take your time and associate haircutting with something pleasant and positive. The first time is the most important one.

When’s the time right for that first haircut?
It depends. While some kids hardly have any hair at the age of two, others have a thick mop. What's more, children’s individual hairs don’t always grow at the same pace. This can lead to a bit of a wild look. When things are starting to look a little too wild in the eyes of the parents, that’s probably a good time for that first haircut.

How is kids’ hair different to adult hair?
With some exceptions, it’s especially in the early years that children’s hair is much finer and the scalp more sensitive. That’s why it isn’t really necessary to wash kids’ hair with shampoo. Provided they didn’t stick their head in a puddle of mud. Wetting it in the bath will do. This maintains the hair’s self-cleaning effect.

Washing hair can be a bit of an ordeal. But so can brushing. Do you have any advice?
Hold the brush vertically instead of horizontally. This helps the bristles untangle the hair faster and with less pulling.

Who cut your hair when you were small?
(Laughs) My father took me to his hairdresser. This was an elderly gent in a blue smock. His hair was slicked back with pomade and he always had a cigar in his mouth. I was plonked on one of those swivel chairs. Next, a cape was tied around my neck and then he’d snip away. It’s a fond memory.

Step by step to the first haircut

  1. Get equipped with the right tools: you’ll need hair scissors, a comb and possibly a spray bottle. Practise how to use your tools before getting started.
  2. Never cut hair on a whim: prepare yourself and your child and choose a relaxed day when you have enough time.
  3. Select the right time of day: never cut hair on a tired or hungry child. Make sure you have at least one hour for the haircut.
  4. Set up your working space: choose a comfortable spot with enough light. Have a laptop nearby so you can re-watch each step. Especially the first time.
  5. Position the scissors: work in small steps. Better leave it too long twice than cut it too short once.

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Mom of Anna and Elsa, aperitif expert, group fitness fanatic, aspiring dancer and gossip lover. Often a multitasker and a person who wants it all, sometimes a chocolate chef and queen of the couch.

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