I’m not sure you saw the memo. I’m pretty sure it is delivered to all kids somewhere around age 9. Just in case you missed it, I’ll summarize: “Showers are bad. Stay dirty. Resist!”
The child who could spend hours in the bathtub suddenly has a lack of affection for water.
And it’s starting to stink.
Here are a few simple tips to help encourage your kid to take a shower.
Addressing shower resistance
Don’t turn it into a power struggle. As soon as you make showering “my way or the highway” you’re bound to get into an argument. Instead, look for ways to step out of the fight. Lower your standards — temporarily or on a night-by-night basis. If your child pushes back in the heat of the moment, take a deep breath and give yourself time to return to calm. You’ll be able to explore the options and listen without defensiveness.
Be curious. Chances are, you have no idea why your child is resistant to cleanliness. (In fact, your child may not have a clue either!) Rather than guessing, give your child a chance to think it through. Does your child prefer to shower in the morning or the evening? Do they like/dislike a certain brand of soap? Would a robe or a fuzzy towel help them feel warmer when it’s time to get out? Ask open-ended questions to keep the conversation going.
Brainstorm together. A good compromise works both ways. If your child truly stinks, and the smell is affecting others in a negative way, frequent showers may be necessary. But, if your child is only moderately dirty most days, creating a more lenient schedule may be more effective. Don’t assume you have the perfect solution, instead give your child a chance to give their input, and then explore the options together.
Revise if necessary. The first solution may not be the best one. And that is OK. Go back to the drawing board — either digging a little deeper into their resistance or by creating a new plan. As your child grows, the expectations or solutions may need to change too. Keep the conversation open, rather than slipping back into a power struggle.
Talk about good hygiene. There are a lot of changes going on for your middle-grade child, and some of it is uncomfortable and confusing. Rather than focusing (or obsessing!) about the importance of showering, use this as an opportunity to talk about hygiene in general. Keep the conversation light and open, giving your child an opportunity to ask questions or talk freely about body odor, zits, and deodorant scents.
Look for the positive. Once your child is in the shower…they never want to get out! They finally showered… although one shower a week is hardly enough. If they’re using up all of the hot water or if there is another reason infrequent showers are unacceptable, go back to the brainstorming stage. In the meantime, continue to search for ways to find a common ground and focus on steps in the right direction.
Wait for maturity. At some point, your child is going to want to smell nice. They are going to want smooth hair and a clean face. Maybe not as soon as you’d like but the day will come. Forcing them to shower will not rush this internal motivation. Be patient!
If your child is in the middle of a shower strike, know that you are not alone!
It’s a common struggle for parents of kids in the middle grades.
Just like you tried to avoid power struggles over the red cup or the blue cup when your child was younger, take care that this does not become the main focal point of your relationship.
Your child still wants to be connected to you — even if you disagree about the level of cleanliness required for everyday living.
Editor's note: This article was originally published by Imperfect Families in 2018 and republished with permission.