Teeth Brushing, Bathing, and Other Self-Care Skills

Although some preschoolers insist on trying to do everything for themselves, others are happy to let you do things for them. If your child is content to let you comb their hair or put toothpaste on their toothbrush, now is probably a good time to provide some lessons in how to take care of themselves and encourage practicing doing those tasks on their own. While part of your role is to be nurturing and supportive, another part is to help your preschooler develop the skills other children their age are mastering. It may take your child time to learn to do these self-care tasks, so you might not want to tackle them all at once. Instead, pick one task for her to learn to do well and then move on to another one. Here are some basic ones to start with first.

Teeth Brushing

Set a time, or several times, during the day when your child will brush their teeth—say, right after breakfast, after lunch, or when they come home from preschool, and before going to bed at night. If they have usable vision, provide a toothbrush that stands out clearly—by color—from other family members’ brushes. If your child doesn’t see color, select a toothbrush that feels different from that of other family members, whether by size or shape.

  • Some children find it easier to learn to put toothpaste on their brush by using a pump toothpaste dispenser rather than a tube. If getting the toothpaste on the brush is a challenge, even after you’ve used hand-under-hand technique to show how, suggest that they put toothpaste on a finger, wipe that finger across their teeth, and then start brushing.
  • Remember to put your toothbrush and toothpaste back in the same place each time so you always know where to find them.

Bathing

As with tooth brushing, having a scheduled time for your child to take a bath or shower will help them anticipate when it’s bath time and what to expect. As your child gets older, you can start showing them how to take responsibility for different parts of the routine.

  • Tell and demonstrate, using hand-under-hand technique, how you adjust the water temperature—turning on the cold water first, then adding hot water until the water is comfortably warm.
  • Give your child a washcloth or sponge with soap on it and show them, using the hand-under-hand approach, how to wash their face and upper body. To be sure that they don’t miss any parts, encourage them to focus on one area, then overlap the area just washed as part of moving on to the next. Describe these activities as your child does them. And remind them to keep their eyes closed so that soap doesn’t get in them.

As your preschooler gets familiar with these tasks, you can let them take on more of the routine such as putting soap on the washcloth and rinsing and drying off. Once your child is clean and dry, clean clothes must be put on. Encourage your child to get in the habit of bringing fresh clothes or pajamas to the bathroom before they gets into the tub or shower—and putting dirty clothes in the hamper.

Hair Washing

Some children find hair washing difficult, so it may take more time and effort for your preschooler to learn. Again, try using the hand-under-hand technique to help get familiar with the basic steps.

  • Use a plastic cup or a similar container to pour water to wet hair.
  • Pour a small amount of shampoo into their hand.
  • Guide their hand to their head and help rub the shampoo into their hair, using both hands.
  • Show your child how to fill the plastic cup with fresh water to rinse the suds out of their hair. Let them know they’ll have to do that a few times before the suds go.

Brushing and Combing Hair

Brushing or combing hair is a self-care task that most children can master during their preschool years. Keep the things your child will need in one place. A girl may have a comb and brush, barrettes, hair bands, and other decorative items that can be kept in small containers, baskets, or boxes. Preschool-age boys probably have just a comb and brush.

When teaching your child how to comb or brush their hair, work from behind, using hand-under-hand. They will probably need a lot of practice before being able to do any styling on their own. But even if you have to fix or neaten their hair, give your child a chance to do it themself first. Talk to your child about how you’re fixing their hair and how other children wear theirs so they learn what styles like ponytails, braids, and bangs mean.

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