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“What Is That Smell?!?”

I don’t know a single child who relishes brushing their teeth or scrubbing their pits. But kids with ADHD can resist (or forget) basic hygiene with extra fervor. Here are one mom’s ideas for teaching healthy daily habits without losing your mind.

With three elementary-age boys in the house, it has come to my attention that basic hygiene is not something to be taken for granted. The boys have been taught to take care of their bodies and encouraged to do so throughout their whole lives. But more often than I care to admit, they still act as if brushing teeth and using soap are major daily burdens. And they don’t yet grasp that basic hygiene is not negotiable.

Along the way, though, I’ve learned that a few key strategies can make a world of difference in building healthy daily habits. From baths to wardrobes, here’s how I get my sons to keep clean.

Simply Soap

Our soap strategy was born out of necessity. Though I like a variety of soaps in the shower, all those bottles only caused confusion. The only item the kids really need is a huge bottle of 2-in-1 soap. I choose the brand based in part on largest label font. I would like to add a conditioner, but don’t want to upend the system!

Best Face Forward

Face washing is a tough sell for young boys with no makeup to clear and no acne. There is also the issue of all the wet washcloths left on the counter, which made me want to skip it, too.

Thankfully my neighbor gave me a great face washing tip from her own childhood: Each boy gets a cotton round with a splash of Witch Hazel. (No clean up, yay!) Witch Hazel comes in all sorts of specialty bottles with interesting-looking labels. When my oldest gets a few whiteheads, I see him digging out his fancy bottle and I feel pretty good about it. It may not be a multi-step cleanse, but it’s better than nothing.

[Free Resource: Routines for Morning and Night]

On the Nail

Trimming nails used to be a major event. The kids hated it and were fearful, for reasons I never truly understood. I would try to make them sit on the hard-wood floors over a towel and hack away at each child in succession. Toenails were flying, boys were crying, and I would wonder what happened to my life.

Things improved when I handed over the tools and sent them outside to try for themselves. In the beginning, they were young and would miss a nail or go diagonal on thumbs. I chose to ignore the quality in favor of the effort. Once I saw how hard it was for them, I bought several different sizes of nail trimmers. We have quite a collection, so no one can claim they can’t find a clipper they like.

They are self-sufficient now in the nail category. I push them out on the porch with a handful of clippers and they get it done. The neighbors might think it’s weird, but I can live with that.

In the Crosshairs

We have a rule about hair length in our house:  If you are going to have longer hair, you will need to comb it. One of my boys has a medium-length, surfer-type hairstyle. Our gene pool is not blessed with great mops of hair, so I encourage him to live it up while he has the volume and self-confidence to rock it. However, he has to brush it out every morning.

[Free Resource: 13 Parenting Strategies for Kids with ADHD]

I won’t allow heading off to school with rooster hair or matted bedhead. I tell the boys they need to start the day looking ready to learn. They can choose to wear their hair short if they don’t want to be bothered with a brush.

Show Your Teeth

Regular tooth brushing is a lot of work to enforce. I don’t think I’ve cracked the code on this one yet. Do you know who isn’t helping? The dentist! Modern dental care has gotten so good it seems to compensate for sloppy brushing habits. I know my kids brush quickly, poorly, and sometimes not at all. I don’t want them to have cavities, of course, but their dental visits are often better than they should be. Those sealants must really work!

Regardless, we all know tooth care is not an area for slacking. My boys are encouraged and entrusted to brush their teeth alone in the evening before bed.

However, because they have failed one too many “let me smell” tests, I currently still supervise their brushing in the morning. I don’t want to. It is one of those things that I feel should definitely be behind me on the milestones chart. My youngest is age 9, to give some perspective.

All kids have lagging skills, though, and sometimes you have to deal with stuff as a parent way longer than expected. I try to keep positive about the extra task of morning tooth supervisor. I’m not doing anything noteworthy. I just drink coffee and hover to ensure they complete the task. It is not the worst.

Laundry List

The best way to keep clothing clean is to keep wardrobes slim. My boys have about ten days’ worth of clothes available to them. I suggest only keeping their favorite stuff, so they are content picking fresh outfits each day.

Get duplicates of their favorite gear and eliminate the rest. Get the kids involved in choosing their own wardrobe. Put extra clothing you must keep in a separate space.

I also do laundry only once a week. Since their wardrobes are so small, everything gets washed. I don’t play detective on what is clean or not.

Bonus Tips to Encourage Hygiene

  • Communicate the “why” with your kids. At the doctor’s office, I noticed my child had on filthy socks. When I questioned him, he seemed genuinely surprised to learn most people wear clean clothes to the doctor. I told him it makes the everyone feel more comfortable and is respectful to the medical staff. He grasped the concept after this was explained.
  • Encourage spa night. Showers get the job done quickly, but sometimes it is good to slow down the process. I still encourage bath nights from time to time. The kids get bath bombs and I let them swim or read in there as long as they wish.
  • Sensory check. Make sure you have assessed whether hygiene resistance is due to toothpaste flavor, water temperature, or scratchy label type issues. These concerns are sometimes a big part of the problem.

Good luck in raising happy, healthy, and clean youngsters!

[Read: How Can I Get My Son to Care About Personal Hygiene?]