Helping teenagers build personal hygiene habits
When your teenage child was younger, you taught him the basics of good hygiene – washing his hands, covering his mouth when he coughed and having regular baths or showers. You had to help him with things like cleaning and flossing teeth, at least to start with.
Adolescence is a time to build on these basics. It’s a time when your child’s changing body means that her personal hygiene will need to change too. And just like when she was younger, you might need to help her at the start.
Good hygiene habits in childhood are a great foundation for good hygiene in the teenage years. And if you’ve got open, honest communication with your child, it’ll make it easier to talk about the personal hygiene issues that come up in adolescence.
Why good personal hygiene matters
Keeping clean is an important part of staying healthy. For example, the simple act of washing hands before eating and after using the toilet is a proven and effective tool for fighting off germs and avoiding sickness.
Being clean and well presented is also an important part of confidence for teenagers. If your child’s body and breath smell OK, his clothes are clean, and he’s on top of his basic personal hygiene, it can help him fit in with other people.
Helping your child with the basics of personal hygiene
You’ve got an important role to play in making sure your child knows about how her body and hygiene needs are going to change, and in getting her ready to manage the changes. The earlier you can start having these conversations, the better – ideally, before your child hits puberty.
You can be a role model for your child by demonstrating good personal hygiene habits. If your child sees you showering, cleaning your teeth and washing your hands regularly, he’ll learn that these habits are important.
You can explain to your child that keeping her body clean – especially her hands – is part of staying healthy. As an example of what germs can do, you could remind her of the last time a bout of ‘gastro’ or flu went through home or school.
When children reach puberty, a sweat gland in their armpit and genital area develops. Skin bacteria feed on the sweat this gland produces, which is why teenagers – and adults! – sometimes smell ‘sweaty’. Bacteria feed on sweat in other parts of the body too, which can lead to body odour (BO).
If your child washes his body and changes his clothes regularly, especially after physical activity, it’ll help to reduce the build-up of bacteria and avoid BO. Changing underwear and other clothes worn next to the skin is especially important. These clothes collect all sorts of stuff that bacteria love to eat, including dead skin cells, sweat and body fluids. That’s why they get smelly.
The onset of puberty is also a good time for your child to start using antiperspirant deodorant. You can encourage your child to do this by letting her choose her own.
Smelly feet and shoes can also be a problem for your child, whether he’s sporty or not. He can avoid this by giving his feet extra attention in the shower, and making sure they’re completely dry before putting his shoes on. It’s a good idea to encourage him to alternate his shoes and to wear cotton socks instead of ones made of synthetic fibres.
Good dental and mouth hygiene is as important now as it was when your child was little, and you’ll need to keep making regular dental appointments for her. Brushing twice a day, flossing and going to the dentist regularly are vital if your child wants to avoid bad breath, gum problems and tooth decay.
Although all teenagers have the same basic hygiene issues, girls will need help to manage their periods. For example, you might need to talk with your daughter about how often to change her pad or tampon, and how to dispose of it hygienically.
Boys will need advice about shaving (how to do it and when to start), looking after their genitals, and about bodily fluids. For example, you might talk to your son about wet dreams and how to clean up hygienically afterwards.
Teenagers do need extra time in the bathroom! While teenagers are learning to shave or to handle their periods, these hygiene activities might take a bit longer. You can help by being patient and giving your child a bit more privacy.
Young people with special needs are likely to need extra support with their personal hygiene. When you’re thinking about how to discuss hygiene with your child with special needs, his learning ability and style might be a factor. For example, does he prefer to learn by listening, seeing or doing?
You could consider breaking hygiene tasks (such as showering, shaving, using deodorant and cleaning teeth) into small steps. This way they might be easier for your child to learn.
If your child’s in the habit of doing things at the same time each day, hygiene can be a normal and predictable part of a routine. A written schedule might also help your child remember what to do when.
If you’re finding it difficult to talk with your child about puberty and periods, you could make an appointment with your GP.
Start early – before puberty. If you keep reinforcing messages about personal hygiene, most children will get there in the end. Giving your child lots of praise and encouragement for carrying out hygiene activities will help.