Talking Hygiene with your Preteen

As my oldest enters his teenage years and begins to go through new physical changes, much of his innocence and his behaviour begins to transition to something much more complicated.  Although I like to think that he is still relatively approachable and has a good head on his shoulders, I do caveat to myself that he is in the beginning of this next phase of his life.  Having said that I already see some sensitivities for comments that he would have otherwise completely accepted in his “younger” days.  This is especially the case when it comes to physical and hygiene related advice.  So being tactful is an added step in my thought process when I try talk to him.   I find some of these tips helpful and may make it easier for your pre-teen or teen child to accept some of your feedback on hygiene:

  • Explain that once upon a time you had to deal with the same issue, and if that doesn’t work refer to an older cousin or sibling to ease them into the idea that this is not just about them – it’s universal.
  • Provide options, do not just have one brand in mind (even if you think it’s the best), have an alternative product.  This gives a sense of choice, even though technically you are getting at the same thing.  It is more about the tone and approach than the actual subject matter.  Ideally, you invite them to come with you in the supermarket and have them go through the market aisle to choose their own product.
  • Explain if you had any awkward or embarrassing experiences (whether younger or older) when you were called out because of hygiene.  Nothing scares preteens more than the potential for social embarrassment.
  • Make sure they are in the mood, they can be moody most of the time – but pick a time when they are less moody and approach the subject then.  This is more of a general rule whenever you have serious discussions.
  • Make sure you have this conversation in private.  Again keeping in mind they can be sensitive and easily embarrassed, make sure you broach the topic if you are alone with them.  I would even suggest just the two of you, having your partner there is not helpful.
  • As a follow up to the previous point, make sure one parent brings the topic up.  They will feel attacked if more than one person repeats the same concerns.  You can divide up which items you want to discuss with your child between yourself and partner, but make sure each of you talk about different issues – not the same one coming from both of you.  I find kids feel attacked even if you are all fairly lose to each other, it will seem that their hygiene issue is more exposed if different people bring up the topic.

In the end, make sure the discussion is sincere, not judgemental, and full of empathy knowing that they are not alone and that most people go through this makes all the difference in the world.  In the end, your intent is to solve the problem and not blame them from being unaware of their hygiene issue (they have a lot to deal with at that age).


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