Teaching a child anything can be a battle, and the slightest lack of consistency can mean starting all over again. For many parents, the issue is not necessarily how to teach their child, but how to teach their child correctly. The moment something becomes a chore or it has no fun factor at all, your child begins to take a “count me out,” attitude and you are left frustrated and helpless.
This is especially true when it comes to teaching your child about personal hygiene. You need your child to know the importance of good hygiene and make certain practices (i.e. hand washing) second nature, but it has to be done in a way that makes them want to do it. So how do you make personal hygiene fun? A child can find fun in just about anything, so start thinking like your child, see what they see, and make personal hygiene something that they want to do instead of something that they have to do.
Start With Your Own Hygiene
If you don’t own a toothbrush, never wash your hands, and haven’t showered since who knows when, how do you expect your child to learn? Okay, perhaps that’s a bit extreme, but really you are your child’s biggest role model and they will do what they see you do. Make a point of having your child see you wash your hands regularly. Make it seem fun; as if it’s something that you look forward to. Children always want to be “big” and do the things that they see mommy and daddy doing, so make sure that they see you.
The phrase “actions speak louder than words,” applies to parenting more than anything else. If you simply tell your child that they need to brush their teeth, it will go in one ear and out the other as they continue playing with their Legos and completely ignoring you. If you want your child to do something, they need to know why and they need to see you doing it too. “Because I said so,” is a terrible response to a child’s inquiries; answer their questions honestly and help them see the importance.
Above all, do things with your child. Instead of, “go brush your teeth,” say, “let’s brush our teeth.” Children value your time and attention above all else, and if brushing teeth means one on one time with mommy or daddy, they are going to jump at the chance. Pay attention to other things you say as well; instead of “we have to brush our teeth now,” try “we get to brush our teeth now,” as if it’s a special treat to be looked forward to.
Create a Routine
Just like everything else, children will require a schedule or routine when it comes to personal hygiene. Children are easily frustrated, so having a set time for things that remains the same each day will make things much easier for both of you. As mentioned before, it’s easier for everyone if you do things with your child. If you create a schedule that applies to the whole household, your child is much less likely to fight you every step of the way. It’s much easier for your child to understand the importance of hygiene if the whole family is brushing their teeth at a certain time than if they are sent to brush their teeth while mom and dad are watching TV.
Make it Fun!
Take your child to the store and let him or her pick out their own toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, bubble bath, bath toys; anything that applies to personal hygiene. If they have a runny nose that they refuse to keep clean, even let them pick out their own tissue! Children (contrary to what parents often believe) want to feel independent; they want to feel that they are seen as little individuals and that their thoughts, feelings, and needs are important.
Letting them choose their own personal hygiene products will make them much more likely to want to use them on a regular basis. Also make a big deal to the rest of the family about the fact that your child chose those things themself. “Can you believe how cool this toothbrush is? Johnny bought it himself!” Making your child feel proud of himself is one of the biggest ways to keep him motivated.
Try giving your child the special job of “hygiene patrol.” Make it their job to watch everyone and make sure they are washing their hands, brushing their teeth, etc. It sounds silly but children love being in charge, and making them personally responsible for everyone’s hygiene will make them want to take care of their own as well.
If you really want to go out on a limb, start using hygiene products as rewards. If you have certain chores your child is required to complete each day, or a “job chart,” that tracks what they do each week, have their earned prize be a new toothbrush or bubble bath. If a child has to work for a reward he is more likely to enjoy it. Presenting hygiene products as a reward for a job well done also makes them seem like real treats instead of some boring thing that they are forced to use.
It takes a great deal of creativity to be a parent, and teaching your child personal hygiene is no exception. Keep things positive, make hygiene fun, and set a good example. It still might take some time, but your child will catch on sooner or later!