“What difference does it make to you? It’s my body! Are you saying I stink?!”
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, but 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. Recently Katrina (one of our coaching clients) decided to build wisdom instead of trying to manage behavior when it came to hygiene at her house.
This change in her primary goal helped Katrina end a chronic power struggle with her strong-willed pre-adolescent daughter. She used questions to help her daughter identify her choices and then evaluate them by considering the pros and cons of each choice. Even if showering is not an issue in your family, you can learn a lot by how she guided the process by skillfully asking questions! If you’ve ever wanted to help your child think through an issue well, don’t miss Katrina’s story here (shared with permission) with all the practical details for you:
Showering had been a dicey issue in our house. Either her dad or I would announce, “Tonight is a shower night!” She’d proclaim, “Nooo! I’m not showering,” and the power struggle would escalate.
I decided to approach this more as a coach, building wisdom, than as the “shower sargent.” 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!
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 to 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.
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 sound 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.
This desire to truly understand and figure out “What’s really going on with this challenge?” helped us have an honest conversation 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. Then we brainstormed ideas to figure out, “What should 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.
M: Which of these ideas about how often to shower 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.
As we implemented the plan we had 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.”
The thing that stands out in this conversation is how relaxed and curious Katrina was as she and her daughter were talking. As she persisted in asking curious questions, her daughter gradually dropped her defenses and they solved the problem. A simple template for these discussions might be:
Help your kids identify their choices, and then evaluate the pros and cons: What would be good about that? What might not be good about that?
Consider how Katrina’s daughter 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 to take care of your body well.
There are certainly issues where parents should set boundaries and be firm about consequences. But building wisdom in the small things 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!
Grow a wise heart—you’ll do yourself a favor;
keep a clear head—you’ll find a good life.
When engaging in discipline situations it’s easy to get caught up in, “Because I said so!” but often times a thoughtful discussion about the “why” behind the instructions you are giving can make all the difference. Your child wants to know you are for her!
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