Child Development and Parenting: Early Childhood
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Child Development and Parenting: Infants

Early Childhood Hygiene Continued

Angela Oswalt, MSW, Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Caregivers may be tempted to do bath time scrubbing for their children in order to speed up the process. However, this is not necessarily a good idea in the long run, as kids need to learn for themselves how to thoroughly clean their own body parts. Instead of doing the work for children, caregivers can encourage scrubbing thoroughness by teaching their children a cleaning routine, perhaps keyed to a silly song, so as to help ensure that important body areas are not overlooked.

At this age, young girls tend to enjoy bath time, while young boys often resist it. As is the case with other aversive tasks, adding songs and games to the task can help all children to look forward to bathing. Bubbles, soapy body paint, washable bath crayons, pouring and measuring containers, character bath "stickers" (that adhere with water) and other water-resistant toys can tempt otherwise reluctant children into the tub. Some children even enjoy wearing snorkels or goggles for pretend "swimming" sessions (supervised, of course).

Hair care is an important aspect of bath time that may need to be handled on a different schedule from general bathing needs. While regular hair washing will reduce the chance of scalp infections and other health problems, over-washing can strip too much oil from delicate scalps and cause dry, flaky heads. As is the case with general bathing, children vary in how often they need to wash their hair. Some young children may need to have their hair washed every day, while others can wait two days between washings. Children in the latter category may benefit from bathing without washing their hair on some nights, which is especially good news for parents whose children hate getting their heads wet.

No matter the frequency of hair washing, many young children will need an adult's help to lather up and rinse their hair thoroughly, especially if their hair is long or thick. Rinsing well is especially important, as shampoo residue remaining in children's hair can cause itching and irritation. Caregivers should use a tear-free formula shampoo that will lessen the risk of eye irritation. As well, adults can buy a special bath hat for young children that funnels rinse water run-off away from the eyes. After little ones get out of the tub, caregivers can use a light conditioner or specially-made detangling spray to help a comb glide through children's hair with fewer snarls and knots (and less painful tugging).

Young children can definitely begin to brush and comb their own hair at this age, and should be encouraged to do so several times a day. To make hair grooming more fun, children can be allowed to help style their own hair. It's especially fun for young girls to put barrettes, combs, or other decorations in their own hair.

When selecting appropriate hair styles for young children, remember that shorter and less complicated (i.e., that don't have to be blown dry or curled every day) cuts are easier to care for. Frequent hair cuts can help reduce tangles, knots, and daily grooming time. However, some children (especially little boys) may not enjoy trips to the hairdresser or barber shop. Caregivers can make hair cuts more pleasant for children by packing special toys and books for children to play with while they are waiting. Schedule hair cuts for times when the salon or shop is less crowded, noisy and busy. Ask around to find a stylist or barber who is experienced and good with children. Finally, consider taking your child to a shop that specializes in children's hair cuts. Some salons offer child-friendly seats (e.g., shaped like fire engines) and show movies especially for their young customers.

The best way to cover a clean little body is with fresh, clean clothes. Caregivers should teach young children to change their clothes every day, especially when it comes to socks and underwear. As well, young children should be taught where to place their dirty clothes, such as putting them in the dirty clothes hamper. This task can be included in the nighttime routine in order to help it become habitual.

Battles over what children should wear can be a frustrating aspect of parenting. Children often have firm ideas about what they want to put on, and they may insist on wearing certain items even when they are dirty or inappropriate. Sometimes early morning clothing choice battles can be avoided by having children help pick out what they will wear the night before. However, some children are too tired at night and will react negatively to this exercise. Caregivers should experiment with the timing of clothing choice so as to determine the best time to select clothes for their particular children.

Applying the simple choice strategy to clothing selection can be helpful in reducing conflicts. Caregivers can offer children 2 or 3 weather-appropriate clothing options to choose between. Too many choices may be overwhelming, but a couple of options can provide children with a sense of control over how they look. Once children have decided on their outfits, they may still need adult assistance in the dressing, undressing, and shoe-tying process. Behaviors such as tying shoes and buttoning buttons require good fine motor control that children in this age group may not master immediately.