Puberty and Hygiene: How to Support Our Children
Puberty and Hygiene: How to Support Our Children
From a freshly bathed baby to a sticky handed toddler, and then to a sweaty middle school-er, we are there as our children grow and develop, But, it is the area of puberty (and the necessary proper hygiene that goes with it), that can prove challenging.
I know that I tried to teach good habits to my children when they were young; ones that I hoped would lay the groundwork as they got older.
Then puberty began…and all bets were off.
It is not like my children completely derailed; they just had so much more of a say in the matter of personal hygiene (and pretty much everything else) that what was once a done deal (keeping good hygiene each day) changed into something that for some reason became optional. I am not sure why this was the case, other than the glaring reason that it goes hand-in-hand with adolescent behavior. And this is for the neurotypical adolescents! Add to the mix a child with special needs and the issue of good hygiene can prove to be much more challenging thing to accomplish.
Puberty can begin anywhere between the ages of 10-14 in girls and 12-16 in boys. Puberty is the period of sexual maturation and the achievement of fertility and Hormones are a major player in what goes on in puberty. They are the chemical substances produced in the body that control and regulate certain cells or organs. Hormones are chemical substances that act like messenger molecules in the body. After being made in one part of the body, they travel to other parts of the body where they help control how cells and organs do their work (Kidshealth.org).
Puberty and hormones bring so many changes. There are both physical changes and emotional ones.
The physical changes include:
- Hair growth
- Growth spurts and weight gain
- Breast growth for girls
- Changes in genitalia
The emotional changes include:
- lack of motivation
- increased feelings of self-consciousness
***One important note about emotional changes: If your child has severe moods that affect day to day functioning, or if they have thoughts of self-harm, it is CRITICAL that medical help is sought
Just like puberty can happen in a range of time, so is it with all the changes. It is an individual process. But I think the main take away from that list is to know what CAN happen and be prepared to support your child as they go through the changes. Knowing ahead of time allows you time to ask questions from your trusted medical sources, BEFORE your child grows closer to puberty age, about how best to help your child and their feelings.
How to Support Them?
Make a plan for how to talk with and to your child. Remember: some of our children are visual learners and may need charts to help them understand what is going on in their bodies. Or, perhaps, an “emotions chart” that helps them pick the face of the emotion they are feeling as you begin to discuss what is going on with their feelings. If they are able to communicate well, using a journal can be helpful to record emotions as well as share feelings between the two of you. Truthfully, knowing your child and how they work will be the best way to begin to make your plan one that works for your child.
Make a plan for them to indicate they need a break as well as where a safe space can be. Then, agree to talk/communicate after the break
Make a plan how you will deal with aggression and how you will seek help if you need it. This may not always be the case, of course, but it is a possibility as those boys with special needs could become more aggressive with the increase of testosterone in their bodies during puberty
Get a social stories book – There are several books out there that offer social stories that cover all the changes of puberty, as well as so many of the other issues that arise during this time. Issues such as menstruation, how to deal with emotions, sex, and more. Getting one BEFORE your child nears the age of puberty and incorporating some topics into conversations WAY AHEAD of when you will really need it allows for those conversations to be calmer and can then be repeated often instead of done in a moment of urgency. We used the books by Mary Wrobel.
Self Care- How to Support Them
Puberty brings with it the need for good hygiene or good self care.
- Sweat glands that once did not have an odor when your child perspired can now have an odor. So a deodorant/ antiperspirant is a daily must.
- Your child’s hair can become more oily necessitating more hair washing.
- The arrival of acne means more care must be given to cleansing their faces.
- They need baths/showers daily
- They can have the arrival of bad breath, so good oral hygiene is a must as well.
- Hands and feet become more sweaty, so clean socks are important.
And I have to add here that clean underwear daily is huge!
The topic of self-care really requires good education and good planning to incorporate what is new and do it so regularly that it becomes a routine; parts of their day that they remember as best they can.
I know from raising both girls and my son, that the challenges of good self care is real, and, truthfully, different for girls than boys and different from neurotypical to special needs. But the first thing is to once again, talk! Make them aware of “why” you are asking them to do something. For us, including Elizabeth, my daughter with special needs, knowing the rationale helps her process a bit better.
For the visual learner: We used charts that were posted in key places. On the charts were the things that needed to be done in the order that we wanted them done. We made one called “Before breakfast” and on it was washing their faces and getting fresh underwear (you would hope this was something you could skip, but trust me, it needs to be noted!).
“Getting ready for school” included brushing teeth and putting on deodorant, just to name a few
“Before bedtime” included hair washing, showering and washing their face with medicated face wash as well as putting on FRESH pajamas (again, trust me and write it down!).
The charts can be tailor made to your child’s needs and abilities. I did them with Elizabeth a lot of the time until she processed them and did more on her own. But the important thing, at least for me, is that the charts need to be prominently displayed in key areas so as not to be forgotten or overlooked.
Also, expect set-backs. So, plan on regrouping (ask my son, Michael, the number of times we have regrouped). I have noticed a big difference in follow up with my son versus my girls so forgive me, but I think it is a “boy” thing? At least my limited research with my friends who have teenage boys leads me to attribute some of it to that.
Keep talking and communicating because a busy schedule of therapies or sports can derail an otherwise well followed plan.
Full disclosure: I keep pre-pasted toothbrushes, deordorant, wet wipes, a brush, and hairspray in my car for the times when we realize we forgot something. This is my version of a hygiene first aid kit.
But, we keep talking and working the process.
For the record, Michael went to school today with some sparkling clean braces, smelling like aftershave and he did not need to be reminded of anything.
- Puberty Help! Great Books to Help You with Questions and Challenges
- Puberty Tips for you and your Special Needs Daughter
- A Complete Guide on Dental Care for Children with Special Needs
- Spa Day
- 4 Features of Total Fitness: The Foundations of Better Living
- Simple Finds: Encouraging Good Hygiene & Independence
- Safe and Easy Bathing with Lathermitts, Because Bath Time is Supposed to Be Fun
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This post originally appeared on our March/April 2020 Magazine