Covid-19 has encouraged even those of us who are reluctant housekeepers to kick it up a notch. I am committed to cleaning hard surfaces, door knobs, and face-masks. I have been hustling to keep the household respectable and scrubbing my hands like a surgeon.
There are only a few things in the living room that appear to have gotten grubbier as of late; those things are my kiddos. In reverse correlation to the alcohol-wiped kitchen, the kids are greasier than ever.
PJ day every day. No need to shower for virtual school. No grandma visits that would require putting on a collared shirt. There is little urgency for real clothes, combed hair, or fresh socks.
The children lack ambition to take care of their personal hygiene and I can’t say they are alone. These are weird times. Their dad’s beard can only be described as big. I’ve been wearing fewer outfits than a Frenchwoman, with none of the signature style. Collectively, we are not at our best.
I can see from my front window that many families are finding themselves in a similar situation. The pre-K kids in the neighborhood seem to be syrup stained and dusty. The teenage boys are most definitely not changing their hoodies. The newborns are still adorable, but the doting stroller pushers look extra disheveled.
This window-gazing research has highlighted the fact that most families are exhibiting physical clues that they may be struggling with the lack of routine.
We are in this together, people!
Let’s get back on track. Time to find some simple solutions for consistent personal care habits.
There is a minimum level of hygiene we need to attain, even in a difficult era. It is time for stricter enforcement! All the little darlings need to be reintroduced to the non-negotiable for healthy living.
In my case, it is getting urgent. My three boys are all tweens. They wake up bigger every day and I fear that teen boy musk is just around the corner.
Rule #1: Wear Pajamas to Bed
If your children are like mine, their day clothes and night clothes were already looking strikingly similar before Coronavirus. You may have also lost the battle over athletic clothes many moons ago, with at least one child living in those slippery pants and sweatshirts that can’t seem to get wet even in the wash.
It may feel pointless to even request for your children to don nicer day clothes at this time, especially when their classmates on Zoom are not exactly dressed to the nines.
However, I have drawn the line in the sand when it comes to sleeping in athletic gear. Fabric does matter; polyester is not for sleeping. The first simple rule to follow is that children must remove day clothes and put on clean and appropriate sleeping clothes every night.
Requiring cotton sleep pants can be helpful for many reasons. They breathe well for a comfortable sleep and don’t hold odors like polyester athletic pants. Having distinct PJ’s also eliminates confusion over a child bumming around in the same black sweatpants for three days.
Rule #2: Shower Regularly
Covid shower resistance is real.
The routines of regular life have been disrupted. For our family, evening showers used to be fairly easy to enforce after a day of school and sports. Now, the evenings are all snuggles and TV time; my kids are not enthusiastic about taking a break to get sopping wet and cold.
If this disruption to routine sounds familiar, consider compromising by opening shower slots in the AM or noontime. For those of us who are toughing out virtual learning, it is true that there is more time in the morning without the school commute. If showers are getting taken on a regular basis, we can better ignore the weirdness of a kid in the shower at lunchtime. It can also be a good idea to let your kiddo decide what time of day suits him to shower or bath.
For families still kneeling besides the bathtub, it is time to pull out all the best bath-time goodies. When will there ever be a better time to use the expensive bath bombs or bathtub paints? Spring for a pack of cute duck squirters. Heavy pour those bath bubbles. Listen to audio books. Play a rousing game of sink or float. Wear a shower cap. Novelty may make bath time more enticing for the little ones.
I am also indulging my kids’ fascination with robes. I used to think robes were for fancy kids who layered over their pajamas while marching around the common areas of their estates. I now know they are also for lazy boys who perceive a robe as a faster alternative to a towel.
Rule #3: Use Soap
Ideally, a shower includes lather. My tribe and I recently assessed the current soap situation in their shower. I tested the boys’ soap knowledge and removed any bottles that they could not unanimously identify as soap or shampoo, at first glance. This does not seem like it should be an issue, but history has shown it can be. An “all in one” product works best for kiddos who are not inclined to read labels.
If your children are like mine, the soap bottles themselves can also be barriers. My boys need them to be large in size and able to be pumped with one-hand. If not, they will remain unused for all of eternity.
Additionally, foaming soaps will win out over gel or bars. The reality of working up a lather on a washcloth or loofah takes interest and coordination. Fluffy, snowballs of foam have a better chance of reaching actual kid skin.
If you are looking for a good soap option, check out Dr. Bronner’s castile soap variety pack. These soaps come in a nice range of scents that can be fun for kids to choose from. Sometimes I let my kids pick a scent of Dr. Bronner’s as an extra incentive to actually use the soap. It’s similar to watching them picking flavored syrup for a snow cone. Will they combine two or go for the full rainbow? Who cares? It’s just fun to personalize!
Rule #4: Take care of your hair
Expectations for hair care increase with age and/or ability. Most kids six and under are still in need of help with hair washing and styling. Dole out praise for showing up or sitting nicely.
The following few years are for participation and practice. Let them spray the detangler, blast the blow dryer, or claim a favorite brush. The goal is that by ten or eleven a kiddo may start to take an interest in their appearance and manage hair care on their own. At that time, parental duties transition from physical washing to nagging for compliance.
If you want to wear a hairstyle in our house, the rule is that you also need to make an effort to take care of it. The other (totally respected) choice is a number two buzz cut performed in the driveway.
One of my boys is a swimmer with longer hair and whatever he had been doing in the shower was not working; his hair was often a straw bird’s-nest. Therefore, lately he has been getting extra hair care in the bathroom sink. It is not a punishment, but rather additional training. I attentively wash it, condition it, and even blow dry it while he watches in the mirror. It looks adorable afterwards and the ritual is sweet; plus, he likes getting pampered and is at the age where it is hard to accept all that loving attention from mom without discomfort.
My oldest is at the age where his fine hair quickly becomes an oil slick. For him, a dash of old school corn starch on a brush really works. It is odorless, practically free, and doesn’t leave a big residual mess like most teen hair products.
Rule #5: Clean Your Bedding
We have said goodbye to kids’ bedding with puffy comforters, duvet sets, or matching decorative pillows- it was too much. The kids bedding needs to be washed with frequency. They cannot be trusted to stay within the sheets like a hotel. We are lucky if the sheets stay on the bed, and not on the floor, or part of a fort. There is no use for top layers that are just for show. The kids live in these beds right now- sleeping, reading, and playing.
When the boys bring their bedding to the laundry room it needs to include everything for a fresh bed. Therefore, we have had to simplify with cotton coverlets that fit in the washing machine along with their sheets. It’s kind of spartan, but more manageable than having a child determine which pillowcases are supposed to be decorative.
Even tiny tots can be encouraged to help strip the sheets off beds well before they are physically able to wrestle a fitted sheet back in place. They may not be quite ready for all the health reasons to clean bedding and the dust mite pictures may cause nightmares.
Young children can, however, take note when the sun shines in and the dust sparkles thick in the air. Go ahead and mention to the kiddos that flying powder is dirt, old skin, and carpet fluff. It is why we clean sometimes.
Rule #6: Clean Your Teeth
Brush your teeth twice a day. This is a tough skill for many kids because, after a certain age, it is somewhat of a private task. There is less obvious evidence of noncompliance.
I don’t think my boys are vindictively not brushing. Sometimes they just don’t remember and they don’t get caught. I have also noticed that the location I detect stale breath is not usually near where the boys actually brush their teeth.
If this sounds familiar, it could be helpful to add a secondary toothbrush location in the guest bath or a sink that is easily accessible to the common living area. This makes for a simple handoff of a paste loaded toothbrush and the quick return of sufficient brushing on the way back to their bathroom. Having the toothbrush in hand prevents getting distracted from the task along the way.
Additional Tips & Tricks
The trickiest part of the hygiene overhaul is keeping all this helpful nagging lighthearted. Nobody likes being told they are dirty. No family needs a shower power struggle, be it with toddlers or teens.
Keep it silly. Sometimes I hide a t-shirt I’ve seen worn too many times in a high, but obvious, place. My kids expect a “wow, you’re getting taller!” when their hair is crazy.
Try to banish commands and yes or no questions. Heavily utilize the ol’ when/then parenting trick. For example, “when teeth and PJ’s are complete, then you can start the movie” or “when you scrub your nails, then you can help with the brownies.”
A hands-on experience may have an impact on little ones. Help buy or deliver self care items for those in need. It is an eye opener for youngsters to realize face soap is a luxury for many people.
Personal care skills are not intuitive for all, and certainly may not feel like a priority during a pandemic. However, this extra time on the homefront may be the perfect environment for the training and repetition many kids need.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Here are some starter suggestions and questions to ask yourself as you ponder how to start addressing your child’s hygiene during the pandemic:
- Gain a general understanding of what grooming tasks can be done independently by age. Pediatrician notes following a well-child visit may also be a resource.
- What hygiene skill is a struggle for your child? Make sure your child knows why this skill is important to your family.
- Is there anything that can be done to make this task easier or more interesting for your child?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Here are some things to consider over the next few weeks as you work with your child on resetting hygiene habits and improving those areas that are lacking:
- Consider at what ages and stages your child’s self-care routine should increase in complexity. For example, when will teeth cleaning include flossing and mouthwash or what is the expectation for face washing or acne prevention?
- Introduce chores in the hygiene department. One good responsibility for a child is to replace hand towels and replenish toilet paper rolls.
- Allow kids to have a say. Agree on some areas where your child can be in control. Can they choose their own brand of soap? Could they decide what time to bathe? Can the child manage their own outfits and hairstyle?