Help Kids Start Healthy Hygiene Habits

Help your take-charge preschooler adopt these healthy hygiene habits.
child bruishing her teeth

If "Let me do it!" is at the top of your child's list of favorite phrases, you're in good company. Preschoolers often want to do everything themselves: turn on your computer, answer the phone, feed the dog, and pick out their outfits. But when it comes to personal hygiene, there are some skills that even the most I'll-do-it-myself kid could care less about. As a parent, you walk a fuzzy line; you want to encourage your child's budding independence by letting her take care of herself, but you still need to be heavily involved in her cleanliness to be sure that she gets the job done right.

Even though preschoolers want to be responsible for their own body, it's up to you to convince your kid how important good hygiene is. You might be surprised to find that the hardest part is letting him have the chance to practice so he can eventually do it on his own. "If he's going slowly or doing a sloppy job, you may want to jump in and just wash his hands for him, but resist the temptation. One of the biggest challenges for children who are learning these skills is a lack of opportunities for practice," says Christopher Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor of developmental psychology at the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Washington. Take the time and have the patience to teach these healthy habits now, so by the time he's ready to tackle them solo, you can be confident that he'll do a first-rate job.

Healthy Habit: Toothbrushing

Set your child up for a lifetime of stellar dental health by making a thorough effort to polish those pearly whites.

Help it happen: While it's important to talk about how you need to clean the food off his teeth every morning and night so he won't get cavities, don't get too spooky about it or you'll freak him out. A simple "Let's brush off all the stickies!" is fine. Put a pea-size squirt of fluoride toothpaste on his toothbrush, set a timer for 30 seconds and let him have a turn at cleaning. "If your child totally resists brushing, try an electric toothbrush, which adds a fun factor," suggests Laura Markham, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York. After his turn, reset the timer for 90 seconds and brush over all of his teeth, making sure you get the back of his mouth, which is harder for him to reach. Then practice rinsing and spitting together -- and don't be surprised if this is your child's favorite part of the process; it's not very often that he gets the green light to spit!

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