Guest Post By Jennifer Landis
Bath time, for young kids, can be great fun — toys and bubble soap turn a drab bathtub into their personal wonderland. As your kids get older, though, it can be increasingly difficult to get them to pay attention to their hygiene. It becomes especially important as your kids enter their teenage years and worrying about things like braces and deodorant. How can you get your kids invested in their personal hygiene — without too much of a fight?
It’s up to us to change diapers and wash clothes and scrub dirty little faces when our kids are small, but it’s never too early to start emphasizing the importance of personal hygiene. Start with your kids when they’re small — make a game out of morning tooth brushing and evening bath time. Take time to learn some fun songs you can teach your kids about things like hand washing, teeth brushing and other important habits.
Common wisdom says it takes anywhere from three weeks to three months to turn something into a habit. Starting early tends to help these habits stick, but some habits need to start even earlier than that. Tooth brushing, for example, should start from infancy — you should be cleaning your baby’s gums twice a day with a wet cloth.
Once they start cutting teeth, it is important to brush those baby teeth. Use an infant toothbrush — it’s really just a small rubber cap you can wear on a fingertip, with soft rubber bristles — to brush those first teeth. You won’t need a more traditional toothbrush until later. Just make sure you pick a kid’s toothbrush with a smaller head. Adult toothbrushes are too big to effectively brush teeth in a little mouth.
Boys and Girls Are Different
This point might seem obvious, but girls and boys have different hygiene needs — especially as they get older. Don’t expect your male and female children to use the same same deodorant, the same soap or even same shampoo as time goes on.
For boys, learning to shave their face is a tricky endeavor. For girls, it’s shaving their legs without ending up looking like they lost a fight with the family cat. Boys and girls both have to worry about acne, but – obviously – only girls need to worry about getting their period.
Be careful to address the needs of both genders. You may end up with a bathroom filled with a dozen different products for each kid, but it’s important to make sure they have the products they want to use. They’ll be more likely to practice good hygiene if they find things they enjoy using.
Take time to educate your kids early about the differences in their bodies and the changes they will go through once they reach puberty. You may have gone through it yourself, but a refresher never hurt anyone.
Set Ground Rules
Rules become important once your kids start getting older and start trying to assert their independence. Set some ground rules for your kids — no leaving the house without deodorant, no wearing non-sandal shoes without socks and no digging clothes out of the dirty laundry just because they’re too lazy to wash some clothes.
It might sound harsh, or like you’re trying to micromanage your kids, but even if you establish good hygiene habits with your kids when they’re little, you will have to both reinforce those old habits and build new ones for things like using deodorant.
Now, we know making it a game doesn’t help with older kids. It’s best to avoid embarrassing them if you can, and just be honest. Just ask them honestly each morning if they showered and put on deodorant. Tell them to smell themselves when they are fresh and clean and again at the end of the day and see if they notice a difference. No one wants to be the smelly one in a group, so often that’s motivation even for today’s teens and tweens.
Don’t Back Down
As a parent, it’s our job to mold and shape our children while they are in our care to turn them into functioning adults who have all the knowledge they need to survive in the real world. That’s why it’s so important to teach them good hygiene habits early. We’ve all worked with that one person — you know the one. The one who never uses deodorant, never changes their socks and probably showers once a week…if we’re lucky.
The trick is to teach our children well, so they don’t become “that person.”
That’s why it is so important to stick to your guns. Your kids will rail against you, they will fight you and they will complain bitterly while doing so — but the first time they work with someone who’s never seen a stick of deodorant in their life, they’ll call to thank you for being so strict about making them brush their teeth and shower regularly.
Getting your kids to observe good hygiene habits might seem like it’s not worth the fight, but it’s one of the most important things you can ever teach them. Keep fighting the good fight, and they’ll thank you for it. Eventually.
About the Author
Jennifer Landis is a mother, wife, and the editor of MindfulnessMama.com. She enjoys yoga, green tea, and dark chocolate. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.