6 Tips for Instilling Proper Hygiene in Kids

Images via Flickr
Images via Flickr

A clean child is a healthy child, or a healthier child, anyway.  No matter how hard we try to control for it, germs surround kids.  And while not all germs are bad, some are.  And kids, particularly school-age kids, are in constant contact with one another.  “Share nicely,” we say as we send them off to school, completely ignoring the fact that sharing nicely potentially includes sharing things like the stomach flu.

 Appropriate self-care plays a large role in becoming independent, and cleanliness does actually help children stay healthy.

In an effort to avoid all of that non-stop germ sharing, many parents attempt to teach self-care/hygiene skills to their little ones.  And while some kids love rules and tend to follow the program, many are just too busy to waste time with things like flossing their teeth and actually washing their hair in the shower or bath.  In fact, some kids even try to get away with playing on the bathroom floor while the shower runs in the background.

Whether your child really dislikes cleanliness or simply can’t find the time in busy schedule, it is essential to teach good hygiene at home.  Appropriate self-care plays a large role in becoming independent, and cleanliness does actually help children stay healthy.

6 Tips for instilling proper hygiene:

Image via Flickr/Clean Walmart
Image via Flickr/Clean Walmart

Give choices:

It’s amazing what a few choices in life can do.  I once had a client that refused to shower most days.  She just didn’t see the need.  So I asked her mother to take her on a shopping trip to Target to test out different soaps, moisturizers, and shampoos.  As it turns out, all she really needed was to choose her own products.  After stocking up on apple scented everything, the hygiene battles came to a grinding halt.

Let your kids make a few choices.  Sure, you want to purchase gentle soaps and shampoos, particularly for kids with allergies, but there are more and more options these days.  Let your child choose a comb or brush that suits her, toothpaste, and other hygiene products.  When are invested in the process, they are more likely to follow through.

Image via Flickr/fekaylius
Image via Flickr/fekaylius

Show and tell:

A visit to the dentist every six months isn’t enough to teach proper dental hygiene.  And hand washing can be rushed and clumsy when kids are trying to race to the next activity.  While talking is helpful, showing is better.

Wash your hands frequently, and point out the care you use when washing.  Sing a happy tune while washing to show that proper hand washing takes time (“Happy Birthday” is a good one, but seasonal songs are always fun).  Show your kids how you comb and brush your hair and floss and brush your teeth.  Supervise their efforts and praise them along the way.

Image via Flickr/srgpix
Image via Flickr/srgpix

Draw connections:

You don’t have to scare your kids with stories of illness and never-ending lice to help them understand the importance of staying clean, but it does help to talk about the connection between clean hands and bodies and healthy bodies.

Image via Flickr/javazombie74
Image via Flickr/javazombie74

Create routine:

Routines are effective because they help kids establish good habits.  When kids know what is expected of them and they follow the same routine each morning and night, they generally do it.

Create specific hygiene routines for morning and night “jobs” and supervise them as they adjust to the routines.  Soon enough they’ll be following their hygiene plans without much more than a single prompt.  

Image via Flickr/juhansonin
Image via Flickr/juhansonin Health Axiom Cards

Use visuals:

You know why restaurants put visual cues all over the bathrooms to help employees remember to wash hands?  Because they work! 

Visual cues help kids stay on track and check off what they need to do along the way.  Get out the posters and glitter markers and make some fancy hygiene checklists to post on bedroom and bathroom doors to help your kids internalize the process.

Image via Flickr/Girl Like the Sea
Image via Flickr/Girl Like the Sea

Stock up on favorites:

If your child insists on wearing the same underwear and socks multiple times a week or refuses to replace a toothbrush when the time comes, you might be dealing with a case of the favorites.

Some kids get very attached to their favorite things and don’t see the harm in sneaking in a little extra use.  Go ahead and stock up on favorite socks and underwear to remove the temptation of laundry basket diving for favorites.  And, for the love of little kids everywhere, just buy the multipacks of Cars and Princess toothbrushes.  Their teeth will thank you.


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6 Tips for Instilling Proper Hygiene in Kids

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about helping parents enjoy the ride, she provides parent education and simple strategies to take t ... More

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