Signs & Symptoms


Is your child having challenges bathing, dressing, or brushing teeth?

Some children do not pick up self-care skills as quickly as others. You may have no concerns academically, but you wonder, without your support, if your child would ever brush his teeth, bathe, or choose proper clothing for the weather.

Children mature at different rates, and often people say that girls mature faster than boys. In younger children, it can feel like a challenge to have to walk your child through every step of a self-care routine.

In a teenager, you may be frustrated; your teen is almost an adult, and yet you have to tell him to brush his teeth. As children get older and enter puberty, they have more odors and thus more hygiene to manage. To peers, it stands out more drastically if another student smells bad, wears the same clothes over and over, or has dirty hair.

Yet, as children get older, it becomes harder and harder to influence their hygiene. Working with your child from a young age to establish routines for dressing, showering, brushing teeth, using deodorant and wearing clean clothes can help things later on.

Some children are naturally very concerned about their appearances. Other children find grooming and hygiene to be a waste of time, taking them away from more important interests like YouTube or Minecraft. When children struggle to see things from others’ perspectives, they may not realize the importance of hygiene.

Sometimes, a child with who once had very good hygiene suddenly appears unclean. This rapid change might reflect more serious concerns like depression, self-esteem issues, and a lack of engagement in life. Some children will suddenly drop their self-care routines due to recent changes at home, trauma, abuse or depression. As adults, it is important to notice these changes and to offer support for any emotional issues that may be at the root of them.

What do challenges with Hygiene look like?

  • Having trouble with hygiene?
  • Struggling to manage a basic morning routine?
  • Continuing to need help in the shower?
  • Attempting to go to school with dirty, uncombed hair, un-brushed teeth and the same clothes as yesterday?
  • Failing to use deodorant?
  • Not maintaining a reasonably put-together appearance?
  • Smelling bad? Do you have to roll down the car windows because of body odor?

Why is Hygiene happening?

A child who can brush his teeth independently, put clothes away, and wash his own hair has skills in hygiene and self-care. Typical development: many young children will go through phases where they do not care as much about hygiene. As a parent, you may feel like a nag, constantly reminding your child to brush his teeth or take a shower. These reminders may simply be a sign that your child needs more hand-holding to get the job done and may not be cause for concern. Attention problems: A child who struggles with hygiene may also miss cues from you that it is time to get things done in order to be at school on time. Your child may be found staring out the window, half-dressed with a dry toothbrush beside her. She may be thinking about what that noise is coming from a house next door. She may be planning a dance routine for recess or reliving the plot of a favorite show. Children who struggle with attention often do not get things done in an organized and timely manner, which can impact whether they make it to school on time with their teeth brushed and hair combed.

How can I manage Hygiene at home?

If your child is struggling with the daily living skills needed for self-care, there are some strategies you can try.

To help your child, consider a gradual release approach. Help your child only as much as needed and not more. You can, for example, shape your child’s behavior in doing a morning routine.

  1. First, go with your child, and do every step in the routine. You can make a checklist of tasks for your child to follow. At first, you will follow the list together. Help your child pick out clothes and get dressed, put toothpaste on the toothbrush, brush teeth, rinse the sink, locate and put on socks, and then locate and put on shoes. Do every step side-by-side with your child. You may feel silly helping your older child with these tasks, but your support is needed if he or she is not yet successfully independent.
  1. Next, remove your verbal directions, but still provide support. Walk through each task together, with little verbal direction, only pointing to the checklist.
  1. Then, expect your child to get dressed independently, but walk him or her through the tooth brushing and putting on shoes. Praise successful completion of getting dressed, noting that your child remembered to wear clean and matching clothes. Check-off the checklist together to ensure that the list is complete.
  1. Next, remove the support for the toothbrush routine, praising the completion of getting dressed and brushing teeth.
  1. Finally, withdraw your help for getting on socks and shoes. Praise your child for completing all three steps independently.

You will often find that your child is able to do much more on his or her own when you are willing to patiently persist in providing support for independent performance. This approach takes more time and effort than either doing the tasks for your child or heading off to school with none of them done. In the long run, though, your child will benefit.

If, however, your child is struggling in multiple activities of daily living, including self-care, chores, and participation in school, a developmental concern may be evident. Children who fall behind significantly in daily living tasks may have a disability and may require therapy. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapists and Occupational Therapists (OT’s) can help children who struggle with activities of daily living. If you suspect your child may have a disability, consider an evaluation by a psychologist (see ‘Where to go for help’ below).

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Hygiene?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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Once we understand your child’s needs, we will help families get connected to the right specialists. No more guesswork, no more wasted time and resources.

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Our Coaching Packages allow us to continually support families as they continue their journeys. Parental coaching, life-skills practice, and school advocacy are just a few examples of ways we help.

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