Tweens are going through a lot. Puberty is starting, their bodies are changing, their voices may be changing, and now we have saddled them with all sorts of new, unreasonable expectations, such as daily showering. Personal hygiene can be a touchy topic with pre-teens, but there are ways to handle it to make the transition smoother and faster without adding any embarrassment or shame into the equation.
Be gentle with them
You’ve probably already talked with them about puberty and the changes their bodies are going through and that it means they need to do more to keep themselves fresh. You’ve maybe even explained that they’ve got to take a shower basically every day (or close to it) or they’re simply going to start to stink.
In fact, they might even stink already! How can they not smell themselves when the odor is so overpowering to you?! Why is it such a big deal to let water hit their bodies once a day for 10 minutes? They spend more time complaining about showering than actually showering!
I know. Believe me, I know. But it really is a big adjustment and it does take time for things like showering, face-washing or deodorant application to become an engrained part of one’s daily routine. Besides, these aren’t the fun, playful baths of their toddlerhood; taking a shower is a chore. And it’s easy to forget to put on deodorant when you’ve so far spent your entire life not putting on deodorant.
When it’s time to approach the topic of their hygiene (or lack thereof), do it alone—not in front of anyone else. Embarrassing them by talking about it in front of a friend or sibling is not going to help anyone. Choose a time when you can have their undivided attention. A car ride is a great opportunity to talk about it because you have that one-on-one time but they don’t have to make eye contact (just don’t attempt to talk about it right before or after school—they’re not going to be in the mood for it then).
Cover the basics
Pre-teens aren’t suddenly going to know how often they need to bathe or how to take care of their skin. Now that they’re on their way towards becoming a young adult, you can offer to guide them in how an adult manages their hygiene. Their pediatrician can give some personalized guidelines and recommendations, particularly because everyone’s skin is different and may respond differently to various products, but here are some basics to get you started.
Younger elementary-aged kids typically don’t need to bathe or shower every day until they hit puberty. But once they do, daily showering (or every other day, at the least) will likely become important, particularly after participating in physical activities. Teach them to hit all the important body parts, including armpits, genitals and feet.
They should also wash their hair at least every other day to reduce its oiliness, which can also help reduce acne breakouts. And now is the time to get into the habit of washing their face 1-2 times per day with a gentle cleanser (no scrubbing).
Puberty gifts us many things, but chief among them is the chemical change to our sweat, which makes it stink. A lot. If regular, thorough bathing isn’t enough to keep the body odor at bay, it may be time to consider using a deodorant, which masks the smell, or an antiperspirant, which helps stop perspiration.
Which you choose may depend on how active your child is, how much they sweat, and your comfort level with the ingredients in each product. Very Well Family explains:
Some people are concerned about the aluminum content in antiperspirant, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer, but studies have shown little risk associated with using products containing aluminum on your skin.6 Aluminum salts are the only ingredient proven—and approved by the Food and Drug Administration—to control wetness, so if you’re concerned about the contents in antiperspirants, deodorant is your best bet for staying dry. If you’re concerned about the phthalates (ingredients that help products stick to your skin) and parabens (preservatives) in deodorant which may interfere with hormones, consider a natural brand.
They should be used to this one by now, but it’s important that older kids continue to brush their teeth twice a day and floss daily. Skipping out on this chore can cause gingivitis, cavities and bad breath, and who wants any of that?
They used to be able to get away with wearing the same shirt, socks or underwear for a couple of days in a row (or longer). You may not have even noticed! Well, you’re noticing now. Tell your kids that along with cleaning their bodies every day, they should pick out a fresh outfit each day, too.
Don’t over look those fingernails and toenails. Show them how to trim them straight across (and then slightly rounded at the edges with a nail clipper or nail file) to prevent ingrown nails. This should be done every week or two.
If your child is starting to wear makeup, be sure to warn them about not sharing makeup with friends. Bacteria from the eyes and mouth can be transferred via all those little brushes. (You might also want to point out that excessive makeup may clog pores.)
Let them pick their own products
Look, your grown-up soaps and deodorants aren’t cool. Their colors and packaging are boring, geared toward you, an equally boring adult. If your tweens or teens are fighting you on sticking to some basic, regular hygiene practices, let them pick out their own products. Hygiene products that are marketed to them or have fun scents might be more appealing than your jug of Dove body wash for sensitive skin.
If they don’t want to make a production of going to the store to pick something out, though, do it for them. Ask them if they have a preference in brand or scent, and if they don’t, ask a store employee which products are usually popular with young people. Or you can ask their pediatrician for specific recommendations, particularly if they’ve got acne, oily skin or dry skin.
When you get home, don’t announce your purchases for all the family to see and hear. Be discreet—put their products out in a spot that is easy to access (and hard to miss) to give them a visual reminder to use the stuff.
And finally, try to avoid a battle of wills over this; the more you push them to clean up, the more they may resist. Keep supporting them and modeling your own good hygiene routines and, eventually, they’ll get the hang of it.
Meet the smartest parents on Earth! Join our parenting Facebook group.