Q. My daughter is nine and doesn’t seem to care much about personal hygiene. I’ve noticed that as she’s entering puberty she has some body odour when she exercises and furthermore doesn’t seem concerned about washing or brushing her hair. She gets annoyed whenever I make remarks about these things. I’m worried that her friends are going to notice it and make remarks which would hurt her feelings. I don’t want to be a nag but I’m having a hard time letting go of this.
A. When your daughter was a baby you washed and took care of her small body, but as she grew you taught her how to do these things for herself. By the time she reached elementary school she was able to wash and rinse her own hair, with little or no assistance. She could brush her own hair with ease. At nine, your daughter should be a pro at it. If she’s not keeping up with your standards of self-care, however, it’s a good idea to review a few things that might motivate her in this department.
First of all, remember that nagging and reminding don’t help children learn to be responsible. Instead, they create friction in your relationship, or worse, teach your child to wait for service from you. Be clear in your own mind. This is her job to take care of – and she can do it. The things that will help are the following:
Create a healthy routine
Make time for showering nightly. Have soap, shampoo, and an assortment of shower accessories.
Emphasize the positive. Let her know how shiny her hair looks when it’s been washed and brushed or how nice she smells after she’s showered.
Take Time for Training
As she enters puberty she’ll need to learn about all the ways that her body is changing. Body odour is one of them. Find an opportunity to talk to her about it. Use tact and sensitivity. Ask if she’d like to go to the store with you to pick out some natural deodorant. Teach her how to use it and how often it’s needed.
Be a Great Role Model
Seeing that you shower regularly and take care of your hair teaches her what good self-care looks like.
If you’ve done all of these things and she still refuses to wash herself or brush her hair, she may encounter some consequences down the road. The worse thing that will happen is that a friend may make a blunt remark and this could hurt her feelings. As much as you want to prevent this from happening, it’s the direct result of her choices. The good part is that it may serve to get her attention. This is where peer pressure works in your favour. Be there to help her process the hurt, show understanding for her feelings and encourage her to think about what she can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Avoid Power Struggles
Take care not to get into power struggles. Don’t fight about this or try to control her. If you do, it could lead to resistance and opposition. You don’t want her to get an emotional payoff of feeling strong by not washing her hair. Tell her it’s her job to take of her body, not yours, then stand back and leave it up to her. Have faith she will figure it out.