Woman, wife, mother. Conservative. Feminist. Closet Luddite. Incurable bookhound. Onetime culture crosser, language learner, linguist.
Set the Scene
Choose a place to cut your child's hair that is easy to clean up, that is convenient for you, and ideally where your child can be distracted or entertained.
In the haircut pictured below, the child is sitting on a small chair on top of a plastic picnic tablecloth to catch the hair. We are stationed near an outlet so that I can keep the electric clippers plugged in and positioned so he can watch cartoons while I cut his hair.
Some people like to do their haircut outdoors. This can be pleasant, but it can be a problem if there is any breeze. And you may still need to clean up the clumps of hair when you're done since they tend to look ugly sitting on top of your grass or driveway.
To keep your child comfortable, wrap a towel around him to keep the hairs off his skin. (In this case, we have an Angry Birds towel being held in place with a clothespin.) Keep a dry washcloth or face towel on hand. You can use this to brush loose hairs off the back of your child's neck. Stop periodically, whenever loose hairs fall on your child's face, and allow or help him to brush off the hairs. (They're itchy!) This will help him sit still. You can also bribe him with candy.
Know Your Electric Clippers
Pictured here are the tools I use to cut my kids' hair: sharp scissors, comb, and electric clippers with a plastic guard.
With the guard taken off, the clippers give a close shave. The guard, when put on the clippers, can be adjusted for how much hair you want it to leave on. You adjust the guard by sliding it from notch to notch along the clippers. The notches are labeled with numbers. Number 3, which is the shortest setting, is very short, just about as short as you can get without actually shaving your child's head. For the haircut below, I will have the clippers set at 7 for the shortest part of the haircut.
Comb the Hair
Some people comb through the hair with water. I don't do this, because I find it tends to make fine hair more difficult to handle. I also like to see how the cut is looking on dry hair. And with a short, layered "little boy" style, we don't need a perfectly precise cut. So, wet your child's hair if you find it convenient; otherwise, leave it dry.
Start at the Back
Starting at the back of the neck, run the electric clippers up through the child's hair, cutting off the hair until you get to about the top of the ears level. In this picture, the hair is very long. In a case like this, you might want to use the clippers once with a longer setting, such as 9 or 10, and then a second time on a shorter setting such as 7 or 5.
In this picture, I have the plastic guard set on 7. Notice how it lifts the hair and then allows the blades to cut it.
When doing the very back of the neck, have your child look down at his lap.
After clipping the back up to ear level, use the same setting to cut the hair behind the child's ears and then over the ears, gently bending the ear out of the way with your other hand.
When you are done, the back and lower sides will be short but not yet neatened up.
Go Higher Up the Sides and Back
Put the clippers guard on a longer setting (I used 9 plus a lighter touch), and trim the hair upward from ear level, going about 2 or 3 inches up and then stopping. Leave the hair long on the crown of your child's head.
If your child has a swirl on the back or near the top of his head, the hair will tend to stick up from there if it is trimmed too short.
Neaten the Edges Over Neck and Ears
Take the guard off the clippers, have your child look down, and carefully use the bare clippers to neaten up the hairline on the back of your child's neck. Use short downward strokes.
After neatening the neckline, look at it from a small distance so you can be sure you got a reasonably straight line.
For the ears, have him look straight ahead. Fold the ear down with one hand. Starting at the sideburn, use multiple short downward strokes to shave a neat line that is level with the top of your child's ear. Go carefully here, as with the guard off the clippers, it is easy to accidentally nick the skin.
Don't extend the line back into the child's hair. Stop it at about the middle of the top of the ear. Otherwise, you may get a square shape shaved out behind the ear, and you might keep shaving off more and more hair to even out the shape.
Very important: After neatening the ears, look at your child face-on to make sure that you got the sideburns the same length. If one is noticeably shorter, you will have to shave the other one to match it.
Just don't get all perfectionistic and try to make them match to within tenths of a millimeter, you will drive yourself and your son crazy, and there is still more work to do on this haircut.
Use Scissors to Trim the Crown
For the crown, turn off your clippers. Use your fingers to comb through a section at a time of your child's hair, hold it in place, and trim off the ends. (Obviously, don't cut your fingers!)
The key here is only to take off a little at a time. If you try to cut off all the hair you intend to take off (all the way down to your fingers, say), the first time you cut a section, you will get a head of full of big visible chops that are hard to correct. Stretch out a section, trim the longest pieces and the ends, then move on and do the same with another section. Keep doing this all over the head until, when you look at the whole picture, it's at a length you like. This will give a soft layered look rather than a lot of "chops."
Some people cut with the scissors almost vertical to the hair, more like cutting a bunch of little triangles into the section rather than cutting a line straight across it. This is a good technique that can give you a softer line and avoid the chopped look even more.
Stop before you think you need to. Cutting hair is fun, but you want to leave your kid some length on top of his head so that the hair can be weighed down and not stick up straight as it's growing out. You can always trim off more later if you feel you left too much.
Cut the Bangs
You can give your child very fine, layered, wispy bangs that seem to fade out and disappear rather than ending in a line. This is especially cute on little ones. To do this, cut the bangs the same way you cut the hair on the crown: Lift sections of them straight up, trim off the ends, and keep doing that until they are as layered as you like.
I like to leave my kids a straighter, clearer bang line. To do that, don't trim the bangs in wispy sections like you did for the crown. (Or do it to a lesser degree.) Comb the bangs down straight, face your child, and hold them down with the fingers of one hand and trim a straight line across with the scissors. Go a little at a time, letting them spring back up so that you can see the length you're getting and can ensure that the bang line will be straight when they have sprung back, not just when you're holding them down.
If you want to and if your kid will put up with it, use the tips of the scissors to make tiny vertical cuts in the tips of your child's bangs. This will soften the bang line and help hide any imperfections.
Do a Final Comb-Out
Comb out the hair the way you intend to style it and look at the whole picture. You may find few long strands or locks that got left out; trim them to match the others, always taking off a little at a time.
In this picture, my child's hair doesn't look perfectly smooth on the crown and bangs because it is still lying tousled like it was at the longer length. This didn't worry me because I knew that when we washed his hair, it would smooth out, and it did. Perhaps your child's hair isn't smooth and fine, or you are going for a different look. You will learn how his hair behaves and whether it will stay the way it looks immediately after a haircut.
Not every child will put up with having their hair cut at home, and not every hair texture can be cut with this method. But if you have both those factors, you can save yourself tens or hundreds of dollars a year in haircuts.
© 2017 Jennifer Mugrage
Billie Raucci from Illinois on October 17, 2017:
Very informative! Great article.
passionatelearnr on March 29, 2017:
Love the hairstyle.It looks comfortable and stylish.
Jennifer Mugrage (author) from Columbus, Ohio on March 06, 2017:
Mel, I salute you. Bald(ing) guys have it tough. One dear man I know has decided to stop fighting it and go for the Mr. Clean look. But I'm not sure how that would work for you. Could be uncomfortable under those Postal hats.
About the bangs photo, this child (though very young) is a very good sport during haircuts. He knows I will make him look sooo stylish.
Thanks for dropping by.
Mel Carriere from San Diego California on March 06, 2017:
I keep trying to convince my wife to cut my hair. Why pay for a crappy haircut when you can get one at home for free, I tell her, but she won't do it.
You seem to do an excellent job, although the poor little fellow looks like it is pure torture to get his bangs trimmed. I have no bangs, my hairline swiftly receding to the top of my pointed head, so at least my wife wouldn't have to torture me like that, if she did agree. Alas, she will not.