10Yr Old Niece with Terrible Hygiene...

Updated on October 07, 2009
M.W. asks from Fort Collins, CO
17 answers

Hello moms, I'm in need of some advice this morning. My sister in law and her daughter are temporaily living with us, and her daughter, my niece, has extremely poor hygiene. I'm sure it's just because no one has properly showed her how to care for herself however, when I try to say something to her or show her a better way to care for herself she gets embarassed and becomes sassy or upset. I know she does not wash her hands when she uses the restroom, in fact I don't think she cleans herself well either. Her hands are always filthy and then she will rub her eye and then it becomes irritated and red for days. This has happened at least 3 times since they've been here, and they've been here only a month. She has bad body odor, she does wear deoderant on occasion. When she takes a shower she is only in there for a few mins, I'm curious how she washes her self so quickly if even at all.
I have two girls both very young, but are in very good health, my 3 yr old has hardly ever been sick and I personally think it's because I have tought her to wash her hands often. And her father and I wash and have good hygiene. If her hands are dirty enough to bring infection to her eye then who knows what kinds of things she could be spreading around, such as flu and whatnot. I have spoken to her mom about this and she agrees that her hygiene needs improvement but has not tried to encourage any changes. I do have a slight problem with cleanliness, as I tend to go overboard on somethings, so I'm wondering if I may be overeacting?!? Do any of you have any ideas on how I can positivley enforce washing her hands as long as she is under my roof? I don't want her to feel as if I'm being too controling and I definately don't want her mother to become offended. But I'm worried about getting my kids sick or anyone else in the house, and I'd just like her to realize how important it is to take care of herself. Any ideas??

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

Thanks everyone for your advice! So I got her the American Girl Book and she loved it! She loves to read so she was very excited to dive right in. She sat on the couch last night and pretty much read the entire thing in one sitting! I was so pleased! And I've noticed little changes in her, like washing her hands more thourghly (sp) and her mom told me she's even been sharing things that the book has tought her. So hopefully she will continue this newly learned information and things will improve. I also found that talking to her about these things alone was easier, she listend to what I had to say and didn't get so defensive. And I will be surprising her with some sweet smelling soaps soon! So thanks again! I would have never learned about the book if it wasn't for you gals!

Featured Answers

More Answers



answers from Salt Lake City on

I would take this in 2 steps. The first step is directed towards everyone in the house. The second step is just for her.

1. Get freaked out about the swine flu and RSV
-talk to your pediatrican (ask about RSV last year and this year)
-explain your concerns about RSV to the adults and then the children in the house
-new rule: everyone uses hand sanitizer the moment they walk in the house. (this will protect your baby from RSV which can be carried into your house even if the carrier doesn't get sick)
-You put a bottle of hand sanitizer by the front door and by the back door. You can install a little shelf if you want.
-Strictly enforce the new rule.
-when guests come over, you greet them with the bottle of sanitizer in your hand. You offer them a choice - washing hands or sanitizing.
-some people think hand washing is much better. They'd be right IF people washed with soap for 30 seconds. No one does this.
-when a family member comes home, ask, "did you remember to goop?"(sanitize) followed by "thank you" or "go goop"
-this is a good habit anyway and will help keep your family from getting sick....esp with this extra worry of this girl with the ever dirty hands.

2. After a few weeks of sanitizing...
-get her this book:http://www.amazon.com/Care-Keeping-You-American-Library/d... They have it at Target, too.
Either give it to her, give it to her mom to give to her, anonymously leave it on her pillow. If you want you can give it to her in a basket of cool girly soaps: shampoo, conditioner, wide tooth comb, lip gloss, sparkly spray, a poof, etc.

It might be uncomfortable for a few moments...but it'll be worth it. Just don't make a big deal out of it. Only bring it up once...and be sure to let her know she can talk to you or her mom about anything in the book or if she has any questions or needs help with anything. Let her know that you were the same way when you were her age. (even if you weren't...say what is true but assuring and non judging).

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Sorry M., AND Dena, this is not a learned habit. It is however typical of kids from about 9 to 11 to have poor hygiene habits. My daughter right now, and my Nephew until last year had horrible hygiene habits. My daughter wouldn't wash her hair in the shower even though she was in there for 10 minutes. She forgets to wear deodorant sometimes and has horrible body odor even though she showers nightly. Kids their age are going through hormonal changes, which effects their B/O, so their lack of hygiene is much more noticeable.

The only thing I find helpful is to go through a list with her BEFORE she takes her shower of what she needs to do. If she doesn't, she has to take a shower again. Not really a great way to conserve water, but it will show her she can't cut corners.

So maybe you could talk to your sister in law and set up a strategy, but one thing I suggest is that you talk to your niece in a helpful way, not demeaning way, as telling her she stinks and is dirty obviously will cause some self esteem issues. The way I bring it up to my daughter is that as her body changes she needs to be more aware of certain things to make her feel more confident.

I hope you find this helpful.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Salt Lake City on

You have gotten some really great advice! Quickly I'll add my 2 cents worth. I have a daughter who is ten and 1/2 and I kinda know what you are going through.

American Girl - Body Book for Girls - A definite must. I bought this for my daughter when she was about 9 and I swear she has read it cover to cover a million times.

The most important thing is to remember this is a really horrible, scary, hormonal, yucky time for girls and to be sensitive to how she is feeling. A good reminder for me as well, I'm always messing up saying "Oh your hair is greasy, you need to wash it" or something else that can be taken offensively when I am really just trying to be motherly. It may seem like she just doesn't give a care, but I'm sure she does.

My daughter's hair is thick and long and gets quite greasy very easily. She will spend forever in the shower and then come out and I find her hair isn't properly cleaned. Every couple of showers I actually wash her hair myself and while I wash it I tell her what beautiful hair she has and remind her to scrub her scalp and tilt her head backwards to get the very top of the head...etc.

My main point is just approach this in a very loving manner with lots and lots of patience instead of a condemming "oooh, you are so gross" type of way.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Salt Lake City on

check with mom... then sit down and CLEARLY discuss in a loving manner that you can smell her, you've noticed her hair is getting greasy, etc. Point out how great she is, and that because you care about her you are telling her these embarrassing things because you don't want other kids to notice them and make fun of her. She is so beautiful, you don't want greasy hair or smell to take away from her beauty!!!!

American Girl book is EXCELLENT!!!! (I think Target has it) Also go shopping for shampoo and scrubby with liquid soap is a great idea too! Talk about scrubbing stinky parts in the shower (privates front and back, armpits, ...) Be SPECIFIC (name all the body parts that should be washed). Talk about rinsing properly etc.

Then talk about deoderant. Remind her that deoderant will NOT mask stink that is already there (well maybe a little, just don't let her know or she'll depend on it). It helps no new stink to come.

Bring in a hairdresser! What I mean is talk to a hairdresser before she gets her hair cut and have her describe to her how to SCRUB he scalp, what shampoos to use, etc. It's great coming from the expert! A few horror stories might help too :D

I've worked with girls this age, even my own daughters, and they just don't think that they're the ones that smell. Good luck

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Colorado Springs on

I don't think you're over-reacting, with all the flu and illness concerns we have today.

Since this is your home, you have the right to maintain certain standards. If I were you, this is what I would try:

Purchase some hand sanitizer sprays or pumps and place them strategically around the house (in the kitchen and bathrooms and bedrooms). Make sure you buy fun kid-friendly packages or appealing designs.

Establish a rule that anyone with dirty hands cannot participate in activities. No clean hands? No touching the video game controllers or tv remote controls. No clean hands? No snacks. No clean hands? No access to the kitchen or sitting at the dining room table. No clean hands? No participation in board games. Clean hands are your ticket to joining the family. Make sure your niece understands that this is not a personal attack, but a new strategy to keep the flu and germs out of your house.

Then purchase her a small shower basket, like they have in Bed Bath and Beyond for college girls to carry their soaps, etc. in. They're inexpensive. Get a shower puff, some shampoo, body wash, deodorant, etc. and make sure she knows this is only for her. Get a timer that's waterproof or a shower clock and put it in the shower. And make a simple sign for the shower and put it in a plastic sheet protector so it's waterproof. It should contain the order of what to do in the shower (like "Shampoo your head and make sure you get the suds all over your hair". "Rinse your head for 1 minute". "Put a palmful of body wash on your shower puff and cover your entire body with suds". "Make sure you scrub gently all over your body for 2 minutes". etc. etc.). You can even tell her that you're getting your 3 year old ready to start learning how to take a shower by herself and that way your niece won't feel like this is only for her.

I'm a big believer in signs. Post reminder signs that are humorous in obvious places. Make it a battle against germs. Print a picture of a ninja or karate figure kicking and words like "We're kicking germs out of here". Or if your niece is into something particular, use that in the reminder sign. Even if she's girly and likes princesses, you can print a princess picture and words like "princesses defeat dragons and germs" or something like that.

Don't be timid. You are opening your home to your family, which is nice, but this is nothing to fool with. It's not like you're saying your niece wears colors that clash or something that is harmless like that. You'd just have to put up with that. But this is serious stuff, with a baby in the house and a niece with poor hygiene. Make your standards clear, non-wavering and easy to comply with.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Salt Lake City on

Hi M.:

EXAMPLE & reminders are some of the best ways to get through this. I remember being quite awkward between the ages of 10-13 and confused w/all the changes w/my body; it's like you go from being able to bathe-shower a few times a week to needing to do this at least once a day due to changes and it was difficult. I think it is just a basic fact w/kids this age. My older Sis and Mom were good examples to me. Now w/all the preservatives and hormones in our food, kids are maturing faster and faster. You have to get your Sister-in-Law on board w/this too. Hopefully she is setting examples herself. Books would be good and so would letting your niece make choices instead of being forced. You/SIL and Niece should go on a special shopping trip and let her make some choices. I bet she would love that idea. I think even having her shower w/her mom or you to get a better idea of what you should do would be perfectly fine (if you all would not be embarassed). Maybe she wants to bathe vs. shower and that is ok too. I hope you get this figured out. You have some great ideas on here!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Provo on

can you ask her to help you bathe your girls? narrate as you wash them, because that teaches the little ones. name the body parts as you go. my mom used to exclaim, "you could grow potatoes behind those ears they are so dirty!" (with a smile) as she washed our ears. i couldn't see the dirt, but at least i learned that ears need to be cleaned too, not just the places i can see. i like to name the body parts in spanish and see if my kids can remember them. or make rhymes as we go. helping you with your kids can help your niece reflect on her own bathing.
and the hormone thing is something to keep in mind. when i was 11, the skin around my mouth was a different shade than the rest of my face, even though i bathed daily and washed my face twice a day. my teacher questioned me about my hygiene. i was embarrassed and offended, but he explained that it was just part of his job and complimented me on my cleaning practices once i told him that i did wash regularly. the discoloration was there for a few years and finally went away. i'm guessing it was hormonal. good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boise on

Take her on a shopping trip, if you can. Say to Bath and Bodyworks type store. Have her pick out her own soap for her hands and her own body soap and shampoo, etc. Even to walmart would work. Make sure that she knows that that is her special soap and only she can use it. Make her feel special and that you making sure she has her own things will cause her to take better care of herself. Then you might be able to help her by giving her tips on how she needs to clean her hands, body, and hair, etc.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Colorado Springs on

Have the kids wash their hands before meals at the kitchen sink. That way, you know she's washing & you can monitor how well she's washing. I'd just establish that as a new house policy, especially w/flu season around the corner. I've got friends who meet their kids at the front door coming home from school w/hand sanitizer. Luckily, flu season is coming up & there's another reason to establish new cleanliness policies besides just "you're gross". If you're incredibly clean anyway, you're probably already washing doorknobs & switch plates regularly, but if not... send the kids, wipe in hand, to do the surfaces with you. Switch plates, doorknobs & I spray my remote controls & computer keyboard w/the lysol air spray.
It's your house, you can expect your guests to at least keep common areas clean.
My SS recently moved in w/us & we've struggled w/hygiene too. Everyone keeps telling me it's an age thing (he's 13). I've gotten him better deoderant (not the smelly stuff but Mitchum that actually works), good-smelling body wash.. but since he's our kid I can also send him back to the shower if he's out too soon or I don't hear soap & shampoo bottles opening & closing, or him moving around under the water. That would be overstepping boundaries for you to do the same. But maybe she'd welcome a shopping trip where you pick up some body wash, deoderant, & girlie sprays.. it's worth a shot!
Whatever changes you make, do them in preparation for flu season-that avoids hurt feelings. If they don't like you going the extra step to help prevent sickness in your own home... ummm there's the door...



answers from Denver on

When my nieces/nephews come over, they have learned that I have different, cleaner rules at my house. I have taught them to shut the bathroom door when they use the toilet, to wash their hands after using the toilet, to wash their hands after eating, to say "excuse me" when they burp, etc.

Here are some things I say, "The reason we wash our hands after we use the toilet is because sometimes a little bit of poop or pee touches our fingers. If we don't wash, then we might wipe it on door handles, or in our eye when we rub our eye, or get it on your friend when you guys are wrestling. When you leave the bathroom without washing, everybody knows that the water was not running, and that you might have poop and pee on your hands. Isn't that gross?"

"The reason we use napkins when we eat is so that as food dribbles around our mouth and chin, we can wipe it off. That way, we appear polite and attractive and respectful to the other people with whom we're eating."

"The reason we never, ever say we don't like one of the foods being served is because other people at the table like that food, and it makes them feel bad when you act grossed out by it. It's best to not reveal negative preferences when you eat, and simply not eat that particular food. But don't make a big deal about it, and definitely don't insult other people's food at school, either, because that's incredibly rude."

You get the picture. I teach them the stuff that my sister & her husband are failing to teach them.



answers from Denver on

I don't think you're overreacting, but I don't think it is your place to confront her. I would talk to your sis and both of you come up with some acceptable hygene requirements. Then it is her mom's job to deal with her on that. Otherwise she will fell bad and singled out. I know when Iwas that age I had bad BO and deoderant didn't cover it up sometimes. Once you have the groundrules in place treat her like one of your girls, and address them all at the same time. For example, "girls, please go wash your hands for dinner", then everyone, adults too, gets an inspection before the meal, that way she doesn't feel singled out. Also you could make a check list for showering, and maybe gift her some special smelly good soap just for her. I think rule numer 1 should be everyone washes their hands when they come home and after playing outside, park, etc. Blame it on flu season :)



answers from Salt Lake City on

Being that her daughter is on the defense about this, maybe she is embarrassed about it. I just wanted to let you know there are a lot of books on how your body changes for girls her age. Also there are books on hygiene. I worked at Barnes and Noble for years and they do have a lot of books out there on these subjects and maybe they could help her. Also you and mom-or just mom could take her out to buy things that she could use in the shower that would excite her to want to really get clean. I don't know what else to tell you as I have not had a child that age-only been a child that age:). Good luck!!



answers from Boise on

I can not remember the name of the book, but it is for pre teens and talk about the body and how to take care of it. It is a picture and word book.
I looked it up it is.

"The Care & Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls" (American Girl Library)

You could find it I am sure a book store.
Maybe you could have your sister give it to her.

I do like a lot of the ideas already listed. Her own cleaning stuff for the shower, hand soap she likes, are great ideas.

Good luck.

mother to Kai



answers from Denver on

The good news is that she learned her behavior and habits, and she can relearn or learn new ones. However, I do think you will want to talk with her mom. Can you have her initiate the changes. For example, she can explain to her daughter that while they live in your house, there are rules, and the explain what they are. Get her mom's support if you can and good luck.



answers from Boise on

Before anything can go forward mom has to be on board, you can take the lead but it is very important that she does her part.

Then you need to understand that some of what is going on is her age, lord knows my kids stunk half the time bewteen the ages of 10-12/13, and then one day they woke up and I couldn't keep them out of the shower. I can't say it's anything I did, just a realization on thier part. But during that smelly stange I would have to remind..remind..remind. After they used the bathroom..."wash your hands"...after a shower "don't forget to do X,Y,Z"...after they came out of the shower "hey did you put deodorant on". You get the drift, I felt like a walking talking check list :).

Be patient, and consistant without being overbearing, not easy sometimes, but the most important thing is to not hurt her self esteem, she'll get enough of that as she get's older and in junior high/high school.



answers from Denver on

YUCK! I am with you and would worry if I was going overboard too, however, good hygiene is basic; wash your hands before eating and after the restroom, bath your body, wash your hair, brush your teeth. Not hard. At 10 years old this girl is old enough to know better and her mother is afraid to enforce anything with her. So here is what I would do:

- Remember this is YOUR house, and get your husband on your side with this.

- Your husband and you need to sit with the mother together (this would be hard in my household but still ideal, you can do it alone if need be)

- Set some rules in your house to force the cleanliness issue, e.g., we require in our house to a. wash before dinner, b. wash after the restroom, etc. Blame your requirements on the fact that everyone in the house sets an example to your children and this is what you require of them.

- You and the mother together decide the consequences of not following the house rules. Remember this is YOUR house and you have a right to keep your home like you want.

- After you speak with the mother, then let her know that you would like share the rules of the house with her and her daughter together and would like her buy in to enforce it.

- Continually request that the mother communicate with the daughter in regards to the rules. This might mean that you ask your sister in law several times a day to correct her own daughter.

All of this sounds so hard and a bit out of place that you need to even have a discussion like this with any mother, but she has left you not recourse. Be sure you do all of these discussions in a loving, harmonious way. You are not trying to insult them and let them know that. You also are not trying to drive a wedge in any of your relationships and let them know that. You need to come to the table with a clear focus which is, this is your house, you have rules, you have two little people you want to teach these rules to. This means anyone that decides to live in the house must follow these rules to keep YOUR home a happy and healthy one.

This is a tough one, good luck and let us all know what you did and how it turned out.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions