Healthy hygiene is important for good health, independence and confidence. Many tweens and teens fall into 2 categories; those that spend hours in in the bathroom and use every product and those that avoid a shower at all costs. Here are our tips on getting your teen to wash.

While having the teen that spends hours in the bathroom brings with it a particular set of issues, at least they smell nice right? So what can you do if you have a teen that refuses to wash or shower?

Increase their knowledge and understanding

Let’s not presume that they have joined the dots that it is the soap + water in the shower and not just the water that gets them clean. Education around puberty for your tween or tween might help. Puberty brings with it more sweat and natural oils. Bacteria feeds on the sweat, which in turns causes body odour. Maybe this is the missing piece of information your tween needs to solve the problem? Do they realise that people can smell their body odour before they can?

Your teen may need a gentle conversation that showering daily is essential for good health. This includes washing with soap and not missing your feet. Routines around dental hygiene are important too.

Don’t forget to mention that clothes which have touched the armpits and genitals need washing after every wear. Even if they have no spills on them or even if they don’t smell. Body odour is worse when the clothing is warm from body heat as opposed to when being picked up off the bedroom floor and smelt.

Some children that have a cognitive disability may also need extra support in regards to breaking the steps down and in helping to remember when to shower.

Puberty is a huge transition

Because small children don’t sweat as much and have less body hair, they can skip a shower here and there without an issue. Once puberty has begun that is not the case, and getting used to this understanding and routine can take longer for some teens than others. On top of this parents usually orchestrate the bath (doing all the prep and clean up) when our children are young. Then once puberty hits we rightly step back. For some teens and tweens there can be a gap in between these stages of life, where they are disorganised when it comes to many things, including hygiene.

Some teens are great procrastinators; they will agree to a shower after dinner, then change that agreement to ‘in the morning’ and then change their minds again to ‘after school’. This can be because what they are doing in that present moment is more important to them and more enjoyable (e.g. gaming, socialising, studying etc.) than showering. The gains of washing are less of a priority at that given moment. It just is what it is.

Talk gently to your teen about why they don’t like, or why they don’t want to wash. Listen and give them an opportunity to problem solve the issue. Allow them to decide what time of day will work best for them. Ask them how you can support them to stick to it.

How to let them know they need a shower

While some teens will take a hint when you leave deodorant next to their bed, many wont. It is okay to say directly, but gently ‘your hair is looking greasy, when would be a good time to wash it today’. Or ‘I can smell your body odour and that’s means you will need to shower today’.

Alternatively, allowing natural consequences for this may be a better option than entering into a power struggle. Teens will be honest when it comes to their peer’s hygiene. They won’t have an issue telling someone they have bad breath or greasy hair.

When to be concerned

Changes in hygiene habits may be linked to mental health. We are all on a continuum of feeling great one day and feeling not so great or unmotivated the next. If the lack of showering is a change that lasts more than a few weeks and coincides with other behavioural changes (e.g. social withdrawal, changes in eating etc.), you may consider talking to your child about their mental health and how they are feeling. Reduced personal care may be an indicator of something more significant like mental ill health or trauma.

For many teens hygiene efforts ebb and flow just like their moods can. During these times take comfort in knowing that teens will make their own choices even after you have provided the knowledge, resources and opportunity to problem solve. All that is left to do is be patient while they grow.

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