Personal Grooming 101 for Babies to Teens

We asked Lisa B. Fiore, Ph.D., dean of faculty and a professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, who teaches lifespan development courses in early childhood education and psychology, for her best advice on what parents should know about personal grooming for kids. Below is her synopsis.


Hygiene Considerations




Babies don’t need to be bathed more than two to three times a week. Use a gentle baby soap and very warm water. (If it’s warm and comfortable for you, it’s great for the baby.) Perhaps place a warm wet washcloth on the baby’s chest. Babies shouldn’t be submerged, as they’re slippery and can’t support themselves. 


Teeth – Wipe babies’ gums with a washcloth before teeth come in and use a gentle, soft brush when they do get teeth.


Skin – Choose mild laundry detergent – unscented is an extra bonus – to reduce the likelihood of an allergic reaction or skin irritation. Many babies get eczema, so use moisturizer (in small amounts) after bathing them. While hypoallergenic products reduce the chance of an allergic reaction, they may still be harsh for infants’ skin. If eczema isn’t helped by the use of lotion, over-the-counter cortisone creams or ointments can help with redness and itchiness or discomfort. Sometimes babies get flaky, scaly and dry patches on their heads called cradle cap. One treatment is to apply olive oil to the scalp and use a fine-tooth comb to gently scrape away the dead skin. 




Children at this age are very eager to demonstrate their abilities to do things for themselves. They respond well to praise for their efforts. It’s important not to shame children for “not doing it right.” If a child brushes her hair and it still looks less than perfect, that might be more the parent’s issue than the child’s. If a child is not brushing teeth effectively, give suggestions about reaching all teeth or brushing long enough. (Set a sand timer to teach how long one to two minutes are.) 


Hair – Wash hair with a mild, tear-free shampoo. Use detangling sprays for tangles and knots that contribute to the cycle of not wanting to brush the hair. Dandruff can occur at any age and really just signals a dry scalp. Over-the-counter shampoos that are extra moisturizing and gentle can help.


Skin – Be sure to apply sunscreen! (This applies to children of all ages.)


Teeth – For information about oral care, click here.


Elementary Schoolers


Children are developing more independence and becoming more interested in their peers, so you may notice them wanting to use specific products that their friends recommend. Instill a routine of taking time and responsibility for one’s own health and well-being. Children this age sometimes respond well to charts to motivate them to produce certain behaviors, and health routines are absolutely valid items for such charts. Children also learn much from watching older siblings and adults taking care of their own bodies.


Hair – Girls and boys share equal dislike for hair brushing, especially when there are knots and tangles to be undone. Establish a hair-brushing routine for long-haired children, for them to brush their hair or have another person in the household do it every couple of days. Kids might not want to comply and may “forget” repeatedly. 


Onset of Puberty – Typically, children don’t receive formal education about the human body and sexuality in a health class until middle school, well after their bodies (or those of their classmates) have begun to change. Some children show signs of puberty in the later elementary years. Exposing children to the transition is important so that they know what to expect and where to go with questions. Because there is a range of ages when girls experience first menstruation, it’s tricky sometimes to know when the “appropriate” time is to broach the subject. Have junior-size sanitary napkins or tampons on hand (whether yet needed or not) and be open to conversation and questions.




Kids’ self-confidence becomes more vividly connected to their perception of their appearance. Teens’ hormones will cause skin to break out and hair to become oilier. Even if you don’t see the “huge pimple” they’re upset about, they believe the entire world can see it and will judge them harshly for it. At first, younger teens may find it challenging or unappealing to change their routines and wash their faces or shower more often, but it’s important they get into these habits. Encourage them to wash their faces twice a day and to shower daily or every other day depending on their level of physical activity. Supply them with acne treatment products, concealer for blemishes, and soaps and moisturizers that are gentle and effective.


Odors – It is fairly common for teens to begin to have faint (or stronger) body odor and therefore, some candid conversations about using deodorant are useful for several reasons: to demystify the change process and to note how normal these changes are; to help them be proactive about taking responsibility for their bodies; and to give them a range of options. Foot odor is also common, especially among boys, and while they may find it amusing to “gross out” their friends, parents and caregivers can explain what smells are “reasonable” and what’s preventable.


Scents – If kids use scented shampoos, hair gels, deodorants and other products, these smells add up! Kids may also not be aware of the volume of scent they’re using, and many competing scents can contribute to skin irritations and allergies and/or itchy or red eyes. For this reason, as well as concern over chemicals and other inflammatory agents, try to encourage unscented products and all-natural lines.


Take cues from your children and be open, loving and honest in equipping them to deal with the many physical changes they experience as they grow.

For how to dress your child, click here.

Mary Alice Cookson is associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.

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29 Apr 2014

By Mary Alice Cookson