Column – Teaching kids about hygiene is important

Published 6:56 pm Tuesday, July 26, 2022

By Nathan Rice

Columnist

“I’m ready,” he said as I walked into his room to take him to breakfast. I said: “I see you changed out of your pajama bottoms, but change your shirt as well. You wore that shirt all day yesterday and slept it in overnight.”

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He sighed and reached in his suitcase for a new shirt.

“While you’re in there,” I said, “grab your comb so you can work on your hair. It could use a little help right now.” He sighed again. I could tell he was a little perturbed by my request, but he changed his shirt and ran the comb through his hair, removing some of the bedhead that had his hair matted from a good night’s rest.

He was starting to leave when I asked, “What about deodorant?” He groaned loudly as he reached back into his suitcase.

We should be teaching children personal hygiene and the need for cleanliness throughout childhood, but these lessons begin to take a new form when children reach the junior high years.

Children in middle school are past the times of playing in the bathtub, but they may not have reached the point of caring enough about appearance to focus on cleanliness. This is one reason why caring adults must help young teens learn about the need to take care of their hygiene.

We should begin by making sure children understand the changes that are taking place in their bodies and how those changes affect the need for personal hygiene. A discussion regarding personal hygiene should be included in talks about puberty.

Setting guidelines or strict orders regarding how often clothes are changed or showers are taken is OK. You may wish to give options, such as what clothes they want to wear or if they will shower in the morning or evening, but the goal is to ensure that they stay clean. There will be times when you may need to say that they are not allowed to wear that shirt again until it is washed or that they must comb their hair before leaving the house.

Children should be aware of why we are pestering them about their hygiene and appearance.

“I don’t care,” may be a reply if we mentioned wrinkled clothes, unkempt hair or a dirty face, but we shouldn’t let that keep us from helping them maintain their hygiene.

The goal isn’t to have children become obsessed with appearance but to help them understand that personal hygiene is important for overall health. We can help them understand, as well, that there is a difference between being vain about our appearance and wanting to look presentable before we leave the house. It’s not about vanity; it’s about taking care of ourselves and helping ourselves always put our best foot forward.

Lastly, we must make sure we are lenient in our directions. Children and teens shouldn’t have to be spotless all the time. Having a young teen leave the house with uncombed hair isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t make you a bad parent.

It’s OK to allow them to enjoy the final years of their childhood, but we should also be teaching them how to take care of themselves and the reasons for personal hygiene.

Nathan Rice, a Hampton Roads resident since 1988, is a branch operations manager for a regional credit union in Virginia and North Carolina. He has volunteered with children and youth through various organizations for over 15 years. He is interim pastor at Portsmouth Nazarene Church. His email address is libertynathan2@yahoo.com.