Ever find yourself asking, “Why, oh why, does my child not want to shower?” The truth is I don’t know either. Tweens, in particular, get stuck in this confusing hygiene conundrum frequently. Every child’s reason is as unique and surprising as the next child’s. BUT… we encourage you to dig deeper and explore these awkward waters. It’s worth it!
Personal hygiene is tricky because… well, it feels very personal. “What difference does it make to you? It’s my body! Are you saying I stink?!”
Sound familiar? Who wants to tell someone that they stink? And who wants to hear this? Answer: no one.
Personal hygiene is tough for a lot of tweens
If you have a child in late elementary or middle school, you may relate to that phase when hormones, and body odors specifically, begin to increase. Unfortunately, also during this phase, the desire to take care of personal hygiene decreases. Every suggestion (or command) to get in the shower is perceived as a controlling insult.
Hygiene, in general, and showering, in particular, can cause resentment and frustration in families as kids desire more independence. Numerous parents have told us they have struggled with this conflict. Kids are no longer small enough to swoop up from the pile of toys and plop into the tub. When you’ve got a tween refusing to shower, it’s easy to get swept up into a battle of wills.
An amazing opportunity to partner with your child and build wisdom
Sierra had been giving her parents, Kristi and Steve, quite a run for their money since she was a toddler, and they finally came in for coaching when she was five. This kiddo really “marched to her own drumbeat.” Kristi and Steve had benefited a lot from considering Sierra as their “teammate to solve problems”.
Now that Sierra was 10, she was beginning to struggle with showering regularly. Because Kristi wanted to build wisdom instead of trying to manage behavior, she asked Sierra thoughtful questions to try to understand her daughter’s mindset.
In the process, she not only unpacked why her daughter did not want to shower, but she helped her daughter own both the problem and the solution.
Even if you don’t have a child refusing to shower, you can learn a lot from how Kristi guided the process. If you’ve ever wanted to help your child think through any issue well, read Kristi’s story below (shared with permission) with all the practical details:
It started as a power struggle over shower time
Showering had become a dicey issue in our house. Either Steve or I would announce, “Tonight is a shower night!” Sierra would proclaim, “Nooo! I’m not showering,” and the power struggle would escalate.
Then Kristi crafted a curious discussion about hygiene
I decided to approach this as a coach to build wisdom instead of as the “shower sergeant”. We started our discussion by watching an educational video. There were some moans and groans during the video, especially when it mentioned bacteria on your skin and the benefit of showering daily.
After the video, the conversation between Mom and Child went something like this:
M: How are you feeling about your hygiene, especially about showering?
C: Fine. (in a clearly defensive tone)
M: What are your thoughts on what the video said?
C: I don’t want to shower every day!
M: How often do you think you should shower?
C: Once a year!
To peel back the defensiveness, she asked her daughter to list the pros and cons of her showering choices
M: Ok. (staying relaxed and curious) What would be the pluses and minuses to showering once a year?
C: You’re just asking me because you want me to shower every day!
M: No. It’s not about what I want. It’s about you caring for your body. I’m just curious what your thoughts are. So, if you want to shower once a year, what would be the pluses and minuses of that?
C: I’d only have to shower once a year! (in an indignant voice)
M: Any other pluses?
M: Ok. What are the minuses?
C: I’d stink. I might get sick more often. My skin would start to itch.
She had her daughter come up with alternative showering plans
M: It sounds like there is one positive to showering once a year: you only have to take the time to do it once a year. At the same time, it sounds like there are quite a few minuses. What are some other options for showering?
C: Once a month! But I would still be stinky.
M: What else could you do?
C: Once a week.
M: What would be some pluses and minuses to that plan?
C: I’d probably still be stinky, but I’d only have to do it once a week. (She still had frustration in her voice.)
M: Ok. So an option they said in the video was every day. What do you think about that option?
C: I DON’T WANT TO SHOWER EVERY DAY!!!!
M: I can tell you have some pretty strong feelings about showering. What is it that makes you feel so upset about showering?
C: You just want me to shower every day!
M: No. I honestly want to understand what it is about showering that you don’t like.
From a place of curiosity, Kristi found out why her daughter didn’t want to shower
The desire to truly understand and figure out “What’s really going on with this challenge?” helped us have an honest conversation about what was actually bothering her the most. She was anxious about having other people (especially her little brother) walk into the bathroom when she was naked.
Together, they brainstormed ideas to figure out, “What could we do to make you less anxious about showering?”:
- Shower in mom and dad’s bathroom.
- Shower when he’s not home.
- Lock the bathroom door. (She was now old enough for this privilege.)
- Bring clothes into the bathroom so that she doesn’t have to walk out of the bathroom with just a towel.
Together they came up with a plan for showering
M: Earlier, we talked about how often to shower. What seems like the best option?
C: I’ve decided I want to shower every other day. Since I wear deodorant, and it’s cold weather now, I won’t be stinky.
M: Do you want my help in remembering shower days?
C: It’s ok to remind me if it’s a shower day and it’s after dinner, and I haven’t done it yet.
She didn’t control the outcome—letting her daughter own the problem and the solution
As we implemented the plan we made together, the reminder that seemed to work best was, “It’s an every-other-day shower day. Do you want to shower today?” And she usually does. One day she was resistant and said no. I went into her room and genuinely asked, “Hey, are you really not going to shower? It’s your decision, but I’m just reminding you of your plan. It doesn’t matter to me.” (It actually didn’t matter to me.) Then she said, “I am going to follow my plan and shower.”
Want to read more?
If you feel stuck in an entrenched power struggle and want help or need ideas for younger kids, refer to our in-depth article, “How To Go From Power Struggles to Problem Solving“
You can apply this problem-solving conversation to non-shower problems
The thing that stands out in this conversation is how relaxed and curious Kristi was as she and Sierra were talking. As Kristi persisted in asking curious questions, Sierra gradually dropped her defenses, and they solved the problem.
A simple template for these discussions (generally best with school-aged kids) might be:
- Are there underlying issues to be solved?
- What choices do you have?
- Evaluate the pros and cons of each: What would be good about that choice? What might not be good about that?
- Make a plan and determine any necessary accountability.
Consider how Sierra received the four Connected Families messages as they solved their problem:
- You are SAFE with me, and I will respect your need for independence.
- You are LOVED no matter how often you decide to shower. 😉
- You are CALLED and CAPABLE of making wise choices.
- You are RESPONSIBLE for taking care of your body well.
This approach to solving personal hygiene and other challenges has continued to bear good fruit
When engaging in discipline situations it’s easy to get caught up in “Because I said so!” Oftentimes a thoughtful discussion about the “why” behind the problematic issue can make all the difference. Your child wants to know you are for her!
I followed up with Kristi four years later to see how this approach has played out over time. She said that 14-year-old Sierra is very respectful and independent with her responsibilities and schoolwork. Her mom said, “She’s just a really cool kid, and I’m so grateful for the great relationship we have.”
There are certainly issues where parents should set boundaries and be firm about consequences. But building wisdom in the small things (like showers) can help eliminate power struggles now and prepare kids for a lifetime of thoughtful, wise choices when the stakes are higher. And even when boundaries are necessary, kids learn and cooperate so much more when you ask curious, helpful questions, seek understanding and problem-solve obstacles. And when your kids show that glimmer of wisdom? Encourage and affirm them!