EXPERT Q&A

How can we help our 5-year-old clean himself better?

Young children want to show their independence in many ways, including bathing and cleaning themselves—which means they may be missing some important steps in keeping themselves clean. Read more here for tips to help your child develop good bathing habits while promoting their independence.

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Question

Our 5-year-old wants to bathe himself. While I am completely supportive of fostering his independence, he doesn’t clean himself well, particularly his private areas. Recently he told me his penis hurt, and upon examining it, I could see there was yeast build-up under the foreskin (he was circumcised but he seems to have some foreskin left). We resolved it by doing baking soda soaks for a few days, but I want to prevent this from happening again. I’ve shown him how to clean his penis, and the problem he doesn’t follow my instructions when I work him through the process, nor does he let me clean him. Any suggestions for how to address this?

Answer

That is a great question and a struggle I am sure so many parents have. Fostering independence can be both tricky and difficult. I do have a similar experience with the children I nanny for, which led to a very positive outcome. Here are some tips that might help you power through.

Independence

I am the biggest cheerleader for fostering independence, so great job for supporting your son with this. Congratulations on letting him lead the way. It’s important to push your children in the right direction to simply lead them to where you want them to be. It seems you are doing just that, so kudos to you!

Yeesh, Yeast

 Teaching a young boy to properly clean himself isn’t always easy, and it most certainly doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a lot like teaching children how to use the toilet, wipe themselves, flush, and wash their hands. It’s a dance and all the moves are necessary. With this in mind, your son may be killing it. Getting one step wrong doesn’t mean the whole dance should fail. I am sure there are plenty he is doing well with regard to bathing himself, so this should be encouraging to you. He is getting some of the job done, which should be praised.

Also, if your son is taking baths—and bubble baths—you may consider stopping this to see if this helps the issue.

Time

First, consider how much time you have spent working on this with your son. When I ask children to pick up their toys, I give them 10 more minutes than I would think is necessary because it takes time for children to build the habit of cleaning up, and I’m sure the pressure I add only slows things down. Generally, people don’t like to be micromanaged and when they are, it hinders progress. The pressure he may feel could be slowing him down or it could be some sort of way to rebel. Either way, if you are in the bathroom with him as he bathes, give him a few moments to be alone. Step out for a second to grab something, even if you are only gone for 30 seconds. With time alone to clean, he will feel trusted and may start doing what you ask.

Encouragement and Praise

Be sure to acknowledge and praise your son for what he is doing right with regard to bath time. It could be as simple as “Wow, you remembered to close your eyes when we wash the shampoo out of your hair. Great job!” or “Great job drying yourself off.”  Keep the praise coming so your son knows when he is doing an awesome job.

Tag Team 

If this is an option for you, partner with someone else—such as an older sibling—who can do bath time with your son every once in a while. Having your son hear your cleaning and bathing suggestions from someone else may help remind him of what to do. It can also help reinforce your expectations.

Being Strict

While we strive to remain positive with our children, sometimes we have to be fun but firm instead. If all the positive approaches you are using don’t seem to work, you can let your son know that you are going to have to step in if he’s not following the instructions. It’s a part of parenting, and no one will fault you for stepping in. 

Visit the Doctor

If the concern over your child’s cleaning continues, you may suggest a visit to the doctor to ensure the yeast infection is gone and for additional tips. Make sure your son knows why you are there, and the doctor’s visit is taking place not because you are mad, but because you are concerned.

I really hope that this helped relieve some of your stress on this unpleasant situation and that these suggestions get your son on the right path. We’re here for you!

Meet The Expert


Danny Rosenthal

Known as Danny J Nanny, he is the author behind Nanny ABCs: The Sitter’s Handbook and the host of Nanny ABCs’ Next Step. Rosenthal created Nanny ABCs to simplify childcare. His program keeps families and caregivers from reinventing the wheel. He has been recognized by Chicago Collegiate Nannies for his Outstanding Performance and Rosenthal’s expertise has been featured by the US Nanny Association, Care.com, and the Association of Premier Nanny Agencies. Learn more and connect with Danny J Rosenthal at www.NannyABCs.com or via social media @NannyABCs