Kids, Parents, and Matters of Hygiene

When I got out of high school they retired my jersey, but it was for hygiene and sanitary reasons.
—Humorist George Carlin

Every kid gets messy sometimes—it’s just part of being a kid, though some seem to attract more dirt than others. Parents have all sorts of different standards for what it means to be clean, and across cultures you’ll find a variety of interpretations of the concept. But there are good social, emotional, and health reasons to teach your kids the basics of self-care for their physical health and surroundings. Here are some ideas:

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Make bath time fun and relaxing—a positive experience that includes play, interaction, comfortable water temperature, and constant supervision.
    • Teach kids age-appropriate personal independence skills, such as hand washing (with soap, for the length of a favorite song) and teeth-brushing (give a “once over” spot check at the end).
    • Talk about the importance of keeping hands clean, coughs covered, and noses wiped in order to prevent infection and avoid passing germs to others. Teach young children to cover their coughs in the crook of their arms—this keeps hands free of germs.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Begin to talk about the ways that changes in your children’s bodies during adolescence—like perspiration, increased body odor, and menstruation—will change the ways they need to care for their bodies. Teachers, pediatricians, and librarians can all recommend good books to share with your children.
    • Kids in this age bracket may have bad breath, especially if they brush their teeth without regular oversight (some dentists recommend that parents supervise teeth-brushing until age eight).
    • Help children remember to brush and floss teeth, even the empty spaces, both morning and evening. Help your children sort through belongings in their bedrooms on a regular basis, and discard used tissues and food items, gather and wash dirty laundry, and throw out items that may harbor bacteria.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Help your children establish a routine that allows them to shower or bathe on a regular basis (ideally, daily). This is especially important if they are involved in sports or other activities that require physical exertion and produce heavy perspiration. Girls may also begin to express an interest in shaving their legs at this age.
    • If you notice strong body odor in your children, suggest they use a deodorant. You can purchase it together after sampling various scents. If you prefer not to have them use a manufactured deodorant, there are several herbal products available.
    • Teen acne often makes an appearance at this time, so help children explore options for effectively treating it with frequent face washing, over-the-counter products, and/or dermatologist-prescribed medication.
    • Talk with your children about the importance of not sharing personal items such as make-up, hairbrushes and combs, nail polish, hats, or shoes. This type of sharing may lead inadvertently to sharing other things—like eye infections, head lice, or athlete’s foot!
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Make sure your teens have enough privacy in the bathroom so that they feel comfortable bathing, showering, and caring for their bodies.
    • Boys begin to develop facial hair at this age and some take an active interest in learning to shave. Disposable safety razors and shaving cream make shaving a do-able part of self-care. It’s helpful to have a male role model demonstrate and share tips with beginners.
  • Older teens may express an interest in piercing and tattoos. Share your values and concerns about these topics. Your primary care clinic can provide you with information about self-care techniques in order to avoid infections.

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