10-Year-old Son Has Lousy Personal Hygiene Habits

Updated on February 27, 2009
S.R. asks from New York, NY
13 answers

My husband and I are absolutely at the end of our tether with our 10-year-old son! He has always been a very fastidious child, likes to be clean, doesn't mind taking showers or baths, etc. He showers every morning before school or every evening before going to bed. However, in recent months his personal hygiene habits have become very lazy! He will stand in the shower for 20-30 minutes at a time (holding up everyone else's morning routine as a result, as we only have one bathroom) without doing anything OTHER than standing there -- we have to stand in the bathroom and prompt him to wash his hair, prompt him to unfold his washcloth, prompt him to soap it up, prompt him to scrub his body, prompt him to rinse...it's getting ridiculous! He doesn't really wash very well, either -- just kind of dabs himself with the shampoo or soap, won't scrub his head with his fingers, won't wash his body properly, etc.

He hates it when we stand over him, but we have found that if we don't, we can't trust him to clean himself -- on the days when we have left him to himself, we later discover that the soap and shampoo are untouched and the washcloth hasn't been used. He's also become resistant to brushing his teeth -- doesn't really scrub them, just kind of dabs his mouth with the toothbrush and makes a big show of spitting out nothing. We have absolutely no idea what is causing this issue -- he seems to like taking a shower, but for some reason he'd rather just stand there than wash himself properly. (He doesn't only do this at home, either -- his grandmother asked me about his shower habits when he visited her for a few days, without knowing what has been going on here!)

We have no idea what to do -- we've tried reasoning with him, pointing out that other kids won't like a kid who smells and isn't clean, etc. He's going to sleep away camp for the first time this summer, and we're afraid that if he doesn't shape up in the personal hygiene department, the other kids will ostracize him! I wonder if any other parents have had problems like this with their sons, and what they have done about it! Pleae help!

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So What Happened?

Well...we tried the "five minute shower" thing this morning -- and we got him his own bottle of "men's" hair and body wash (Old Spice, I think), plus we offered him the option of some nice-smelling cologne/aftershave (like he needs aftershave, lol!) whose smell will dissapate quickly, and he did much better! I told him we could go out and get him his own deodorant if he wanted it (though frankly, he's not exactly ready for deodorant yet) and he liked the idea of having his own "men's" type products to use. I don't think this has to do with me going back to work because my profile comment is a bit out of date -- I've been working now for over a year (at my son's school, actually) and this behavior just started recently when nothing else has changed, so I wanted to thank the moms who suggested that as a possibility, but also have them realize that it's not exactly "because" I went back to work!

Can I also say that the comments about possible sexual abuse and people "taking advantage" of my son freaked me out to the point where I wonder why people are so paranoid? Let's be realistic here -- if an otherwise normal 10-year-old is suddenly being lazy about getting clean, it does NOT automatically equate to sexual abuse! Good grief, we're talking about a kid who's being LAZY in the shower, not REFUSING to shower! I can assure you without any doubt that NO ONE is doing anything to my son -- he might have some issues in the shower department, but he also talks to us and does not keep things from us and knows that if something isn't right he is to tell us or another grownup he trusts right away, and I have no doubt that he would do so. None. The idea that he might need "counseling" to "open up more" simply because he was being lazy in the shower is, frankly...bizarre.

Anyway...the point is...we got him some men's body wash and found him a nice-smelling aftershave/cologne that he likes that isn't too overpowering, and he took a great and efficient shower this morning without anyone standing over him, got very clean in five minutes, brushed his teeth properly, splashed himself with the aftershave, and is sitting here eating his breakfast as I write this, smelling and looking just fine. Thank you for all your help with this!

Featured Answers



answers from New York on

Hi S., Many young people, boys and girls go through this at this age. Yes, you need to keep after him. HOpefully he will straighten out eventually. Grandma Mary

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answers from New York on

Hi S.,

I was reading your post and feeling at a loss, like you, until I got to the very end where you wrote:

"I'm a mom of a 10-year-old son who has just re-entered the workforce after many years of stay-at-home motherhood."

Based on that alone, my best guess is that your son is having a normal reaction to a major change in his life...Mommy is back at work. He may be a little depressed, or anxious, or just seeking extra attention. Try giving him some strictly Mom-and-Me time...no interruptions allowed. And talk to him, plainly and frankly. He's old enough to have this discussion with you. Ask him to share his feelings about you going back to work.

If the behavior persists, I would consider bringing him to a child psychologist, who may be better equipt to help him work through whatever is bothering him.

I hope this helps. I know how frustrating it can be...my little guy went through a LONG phase of hating to have his teeth brushed and it was torture every morning and every night!


1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

My daughter went through something similar for about a week or 2. She and I showered together since she was able to stand, so she knew how to shower properly.

Then around 8 or 9 she started to get a little lazy. One day I noticed that she smelled as if she were working on a railroad. I told her to get in that shower as stay as long as was necessary to smell clean. She said she didn't "feel" like it.

I told her I did not feel like smelling her and that NO ONE likes a stinky person, especially a stinky girl.

And, if word got out that she smelled or had BO, all the boys would talk about her and the girls would be especially cruel.

She now showers waaay too much.

Tell your son that if he smells, girls will treat him terribly. This may work.

Also, don't rule out that he may be tired and stands there to wake up. Boys do this all the time. My nephew who stays over quite frequently drives us nuts with this. He stays in there so long, that he uses up all the hot water! He says he stands there because it wakes him up. I told him to get more sleep.

Good luck!



answers from New York on

I think that this is totally normal for the age, particularly with boys. I agree with an earlier post, have him pick out stuff that he likes, the smell, the texture. We went through this about a year ago when my son was about 10 and it was terrible. He still doesnt seem to care as much about how he looks, but it is getting better each day as the girls get more interesting to him! There were several things that helped a lot, including letting him pick his own stuff. We found that he LOVED stuff that smelled good and went to Bath and Body works where he chose his own soap, etc. Also, we had a discussion and flat out asked him if there was a kid in his class/school that smelled bad. Of course he said yes. Then asked if the other kids teased that child. Of course he said yes. Then asked if he wanted to be that kid? Of course he said no. Then stressed why the hygiene thing was so important. In those terms, on a level he could totally relate to, it finally sunk in. Also, it turned out that he hated taking a shower and hated doing it at night. So he started taking a bath every morning. Now we are fortunate to have more than one bathroom so this may not be an option for you. But once he could control when and how he bathed, it became his routine and the issue got MUCH better. 10-12 year old boys dont usually care how they look or smell, but they do care if others notice it. Once the hormones kick in, it will get better too. And as for sleepaway, our son went for the first time last summer and EVERY boy was absolutely disgusting upon return. We had to throw out his bed clothes, they were so bad. And this is a really good camp that TRIES to encourage hygiene and laundry. It is totally normal for them to be filthy and frankly, when in their life will they be able to be totally free? At summer camp when they are 10. Once the hormones start, it is a whole different matter and then you have a whole NEW set of worries! Hope this helps, hang in there!



answers from New York on


I think all kids - boys and girls alike- go through this phase of life around this age - they eventually grow out of it and start noticing their peers (and perhaps start 'liking' them) to the point where they care about their appearance.

My son is 15 and did the same thing - I also did the same thing you did - stand over him and watch - or be in the bathroom with him - making sure I 'heard' the soap being used and the shampoo being used - then smelling his hair afterwards! He HATED IT!!

I noticed another mom suggested getting him scents that he likes - like Axe or Tag - they do sell body wash and now shampoo for men - perhaps he'd like that.

As for him going to sleep camp - I wouldn't worry - I'm sure at some point he'll see that the others are showering and he'll get the 'hint'. (who knows..the others may be going through the same phase!)

Good luck!



answers from New York on

Hello S.

I here you and understand how your feeling completely. My son started the same habits around the same age and he is now 13. My husband went as far as going into the bathroom and showering him because it got so bad. Well he didn't like that so much. We told him he didn't give us any choice. He SMELLED! Tried to explain that his body is going through changes and he has to start taking care of his body and make sure he wears deodorant as well as brushing his teeth everyday. Well it hasn't been easy but it took his 7th grade Health class to open his eyes to what we have been telling him all along. Someone else had to tell him and he seem to change over night. They talked to the boys about their systems changing and that they now have to wear deodorant and be more contious of their personel hygenine. He has been alot better since then. So, my advice to you is that it's his age. I think all boys go through this. It's just not important to them right now. But I think he will come around. Someone will say something to him and it just might click. Sometimes it take someone other then his parents telling him what to do for him to understand or someone to tell him he smells. Unfortunately, this is all about growing up. It does get better and then you will be onto other more important issues. I don't know if this answers your question but I hope it helps. Good Luck

K. - Mom of 3



answers from New York on

I am going to agree with Tova and suggest that your son's recent change in behavior just MIGHT have something to do with your return to work. It's not that it is your fault, only that your son has responded to the change in the household by regressing, which is what kids often do at transition points. If that is the case, he is acting out, as if he is a younger child, to get the attention from you that he is afraid he has lost, or will lose. Even negative attention is attention. It's an emotional thing and it doesn't have to make sense. He could be responding to the change and his concerns about what might be different in the only way he knows how. So, aside from continuing to maintain your expectations that he meet your standards for personal hygiene, you will need to reassure him through your attitude, behavior and words that while you have returned to work, you are still there for him. Maybe you can do some things together or you can spend time with him doing something he particularly likes to let him know that while your time is more limited now, you will make time for him. And what does he do after school now that you're working? Hope this helps, and good luck!



answers from New York on

1st go shopping with him. Let him pick out his own toothbrush,,, my kids did this and it helped.. then pick out toothpaste.. my kids like less minty types of toothpaste, next hair stuff and deodrant. My son loves axe deodrant and my daughter who is 10 loves teen type .. which has watermelon... and other girly type smells. They both seem much happier about doing the clean thing. I also bought wipes for them to use on their skin when they get home from school to prevent breakouts. tell him if he uses this all properly -- you can go shopping again when it's time to go the sleepaway camp. good luck.. if he doesn't shape up.. you must take tv time away or other stuff...



answers from New York on

This is just my opinion, does he want to go to camp? maybe this is his way of letting you know that he doesnt want to go or something, I would maybe talk to him more to find out what the real problem is. so instead of talk to him like you do try getting to the real problem and why he is behaving that way when he wasnt like that before.

hope I helped

God Bless



answers from New York on

Hi S.,

I had to respond.
Only child, stay at home married mom re-entering the workforce.
That's my family, but we have a girl child.
That is their way of getting back that one on one
attention that they feel they are lousing.
He is taking a stand, but for the wrong reasons.
Try sitting down and talking to him to see what is in his mind. Kids have crazy thoughts in their head to have to brought back to reality and refocused.
This a battle that you and your husband must win - to loose means having a pimply faced, yellowed teeth, smelly teenager. I refuse to have one of those.
And I know parents who let their kids win and the kids start stinking up the place at home and at school.
You have to listen to him, start punishing him - and than rewarding him.
I cleaned my daughter myself and she hated that - punishment.
I say well if you're going to act like a baby I will treat you like a baby. Your son at ten will HATE, HATE it if mom has to clean him and I mean every part of him.
On Monday I clean her, she hates it.
On Tuesday she does a good job cleaning herself and I reward her with a star. She has to earn enough stars to pick out something she likes or to do something fun on the weekend. On Wednesday, not as clean as I would like? I clean her again and she's punish I take away her ds lite or what ever she likes. But I don't give up and I don't stop.

My daughter is twelve and you should see how clean she is now. I told her I will not have a stinky child. This was a battle I was willing to fight for. Only child use their power of stand still by stopping production.



answers from New York on


Mine will take a shower but brushing his teeth has always been a challenge. He lies and I have had to bust him every morning for non-brushing and send him back to do it ....yes.....standing over him.

Well, he earned his first cavity and since the needle and the drill he has been doing a better job. It's the first week so I am not convinced yet.

It could be a faze. I know it's tuff and it drives you nuts but keep on him. I think at one point they snap and then they shower so much that it annoys you the other way. My older ones are like that now.

I know we don't want them to go to school stinky and have other kids tease them. That will last a lifetime with them.

I don't think I would wash anything but hair for him and not in the shower. Just out of respect and modesty issues. But I would check him and send him back in if he did't do it right. The joys of parenthood eh?

This too shall pass.



answers from New York on

After teaching 5th grade for 5 years, this sounds to me like your son is "taking a stand!" He's going to do what he wants, how and when he wants. You standing over him may only make it worse, because he might also be ashamed that you can see him while he bathes.

What if you put a timer in the bathroom, and tell him "You have 5 minutes. Wash your hair and body the right way, and get very clean. When you come out, I'm checking. If you aren't clean, you're going back in." Then follow through. Feel free to take away something he likes, too. Nothing huge, but honestly- the kid has to bathe! How about, "You clean up appropriately, or I get the cell phone the rest of the day." And again, follow through! He'll get the message quickly. There are a ton of ways to exert your independence as a 10 year old, but being stinky isn't the right one! :) (Same goes for brushing his teeth, only it's probably no big deal to watch him with that. Have you gotten him a cool electric toothbrush? Maybe that would sweeten the deal?)

And don't tolerate the 20 minute shower either, if it's messing up your family schedule! This is a good time to learn that it's not all about him. If he really wants a long shower, then he'll have to take it at another time. Sit down with him, and work out a contract or agreement. 10 year olds want to feel like they're in charge of their bodies and their lives, and that the rules they live with are fair. Let him help you design the contract (actually written out, and signed!). He'll still push the boundaries, but at least you'll have clear consequences in place when he messes up.

And be ready for total filth during camp. But that's how ALL boys are (and some girls too!) at sleep away camp. It's so gross. I was a counselor for years! :)



answers from Rochester on


Two thoughts here:

First, find out that no one is taking advantage of your son - anywhere. School, home, friends, anywhere. Either ask, or counseling if you think he will open up more there.

Second: Heheheeee...my own brother HATED to wash. He actually got in the tub one time, sat there, and got out, and told my Mom he got a bath. (talk about legal technicalities!) She was furious when she found him (he was 8 I think at the time) dirty hands and face and hair! He kept adamantly stating he had taken a 'bath'. She found out, he was CLEAN--- from the WAIST DOWN! OH we laugh about it now but she was FURIOUS! She had to practically stand with him to get him to wash.

The help she got you can't use, though. My Dad would enforce the matter when necessary. But it led to something a little more (the not washing) painful and he wised up eventually. He got a boil. THAT will cure anyone into fastidiousness.

All this being said, I would talk over things with him - or have his dad do it if he is too embarrassed to talk with his Mom.

Good luck,

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