Survey: Hygiene Habits

Updated on July 02, 2012
E.D. asks from Olympia, WA
29 answers

((My children are just turned five and about to turn four))

Hi'ya folks, I'd like to hear how it works in your home.

Last night I was getting one of our girls showered and my husband was helping the other their teeth. Now, my husband and I do it differently than each other and because we were all in the bathroom together, we had an in depth discussion about technique.

When he brushes the kids teeth, he's watching and timing, telling them where to brush. But they are the ones who do it. I get in there myself and brush them up, then let them finish on their own. When our eldest came to us her teeth were a mess and I haven't wanted to miss any teeth because she's so prone to cavities.

My husband says they are old enough and that doing it for them is a disservice to them, and that they need to practice and start having good habits. I'm worried that they won't do a good enough / thorough enough job and think they still need physical help.

But, after our talk last night I'm thinking I might need to reassess my thoughts and strategies.
What do you think?

- When did your kid/s start brushing their own teeth?
- Flossing?

- Soaping in the bath?
- Shampooing their hair?

TIA, and no wrong answers. I'm not attached to my camp...just want whatever is going to be most helpful to my kids in the long run.

What can I do next?

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Featured Answers



answers from Chicago on

I help my 2 year old brush his teeth, but my 4 year old is on her own. She also washes her hair and and her body.

My 4 year old has also started flossing her own teeth. She doesn't really floss them, but play is important in learning.

In fact, my 2.5 year old sons mostly dressed himself, and my daughter has been dressing herself for 2 years. She comes to me every morning and asks about the weather, so she has an idea of what type of clothing to put on. I buy them shoes that don't require me to help them, so I don't even do their shoes. Sometimes they end up on the wrong feet, but oh well, they should do for themselves what they can do, even if it isn't perfect.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Redding on

I'd watch them do it themselves and where they are lacking I would step in and say "Now FEEL what I am doing, this is what YOU need to do"... and have them do it. By all means, keep an eye on it. They will "slack" if left to their own devices.
A visual of rotten teeth on the computer monitor might help them realize how important brushing really is, once you KNOW they KNOW, you can safely leave them to it alone.
*Mine could wash their hair and body by age 5 without much intervention.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My kids are almost 5 and 7. I still brush their teeth. My 7 year old has tried to do it herself, but she does such a horrible job, that I do it because I don't want to be paying for fillings. I also floss their teeth.
7 year old can wash her self in the shower alone, BUT just needs help rinsing her hair (very long hair)
4 year still needs help washing

2 moms found this helpful

More Answers


answers from Kansas City on

honestly i just think it's a preference thing. i don't think there's one magical age that is the "rule". my son is 5, has been brushing his teeth himself (kind of like your hubby's method) for about a year, and has just recently started flossing with those little plastic flossers.

i have let him scrub his hair and body (with a loofah) for a couple years. he can get himself wet and scrub, but i apply the shampoo/body wash. then i help rinse.

i kind of feel like school age he should be doing these things mostly himself. and mine is a september birthday, so he starts kindergarten in the fall.

another factor is that he HATES getting water in his face. he has only laid down in the tub twice and that was a BIG deal to have his head back in the water and his ears under water. not a fan. so he is not a fan of doing it himself, since it's hard for him not to get water in his ears and face.

i agree there's really no wrong or right answers. every family and every kiddo is different. interesting question though :)

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I think if you want to prevent cavities, getting in there and doing it yourself occasionally isn't going to disable them in the tooth brushing arena.

I think a mix of your and your husband's technique is a nice balance.

I don't remember when I stopped brushing their teeth, but I know that occasionally I would do it for them because I knew they weren't doing it well enough by themselves.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

We brush our daughter's teeth and floss them for her; she just turned 4. We get all the brushing done and let her "finish" the brushing. She doesn't know we've already done all of it and truly thinks she's doing most of it. :) She can't even begin to floss her own teeth in the back... Haha.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

4 and 5 yo's should be encouraged to learn how to brush their teeth on their own but are generally not ready to take over completely. My dentist still has our 5yo brushing her own teeth in the morning and having a parent brush them at night. She's getting the learning experience while still having her teeth cleaned thoroughly once a day. We generally floss her teeth at night, but we will let her start the process. She's probably ready to take over this part of the routine, but it would tack on a half-hour or so. sigh.

Re: shampooing, etc. I'm trying to get my 5yo to start taking over these responsibilities on her own. But, I still need to help and/or stand over her issuing constant instructions. That tells me she's not quite ready. Soon. I hope.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Well, our dentist told us kids don't really do a good enough job until they are about 8 years old. However, our 6 year old does his own, and the older 2 definitely do their own. We do the 2 year old's teeth.
Oldest started showering alone at 7, next about the same age, but the 6 year old started showering alone at 5.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

My BIL is our dentist. He says that technically, kids do not have the dexterity to brush their teeth properly until about age 8. So around age five he said to start letting my son do his own teeth, while I supervise and remind him what he's missed like your husband is doing. BUT then I have to go back and "really" brush his teeth to make sure it's done right. Because kids also need to learn about how much pressure to use and you can't "watch" them and correct that.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Iowa City on

I have a just turned 5 year old and a two year old. The younger one brushes her teeth and then dad or I brush them. The older one brushes her teeth with monitoring from us. She flosses on her own.

Both girls wash themselves. The two year old obviously then gets scrubbed by a parent. The five year old can manage fine on her own. Dad or I do wash her hair for her because she is paranoid about getting shampoo in her eyes.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Albany on

Questions like this make me worry, Ephie.

I honestly CAN'T REMEMBER which kid started doing which thing by him/hersel at what age! And it's only been a decade since my youngest was 5.

But the super weird thing is I CAN remember very distinctly when *I* started doing specific things by myself in my OWN early childhood. And that was almost FIVE DECADES ago.


Anyway, like you say, whatever your philosphies are on this subject, by the time they're young adults, kids WILL be figuring it all out for themselves, right? I mean, MINE do, even though I don't even REMEMBER when they firgured it out. Grrrrrr.


2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I brushed my youngest one's teeth until five and a half and he never had cavities. My older ones did it themselves and had more cavities. If your older daughter is prone to cavities I would do it once a day, have her go first then you. With the younger girl I would have her go first and then a parent so she gets lots of practice.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

Both. Your husband is teaching them responsibility and you are making sure they are clean. I used to start the brushing and then let her finish when my daughter was 5. She is six now and she brushes and flosses, after being told.

My husband and I have been on the same kick. My husband does everything for my daughter and I make her do it herself. So for ice skating (including socks), she sticks her foot in the air. He says she is six and needs help and I say she is six and needs to learn.

So two days ago, she lost her eye glasses. While they were still missing that day, I asked my husband how much he thought we could get out of the scrap metal. I found them that night at the foot of our bed. She took them off while watching TV in our bed. So, hubby asked how do we prevent this from happening again...and I said teach her responsibility.

So yes, they do need to learn and still need your assistance and guidance.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

We figure practice makes perfect and ownership is an important trait to impart. For my stepdaughter she started taking her own unsupervised baths around four and a half. For the first few showers we showed her while she was in the shower how to soap and rinse her hair to keep the soap and water out of her face. Then we explained all the parts which needed soap. Um, that would be all parts so go back to that missed spot. For the first few months of solo showers one of us would go check that all of the soap was off before she got out of the water. We also had to explain drying off. How it can be comfortable to have your pajamas stuck to your wet back is beyond me. For the toothbrushing we turned her loose at the same time. The dentist explained how to properly brush and floss. We reiterated those procedures at home. After that it is up to her to do the job right. Only in the last few weeks have we backed even further off and are only reminding her/asking her if she brushed and flossed. At eight and a half she's doing a pretty good job I think.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

My kids are 5 & 9.
They can do all of those things themselves.
Per our Dentist, they need to brush for 2 minutes.

Now, sometimes, they don't brush well.
So, I tell them to keep going!
Or, with my 5 year old, I will do it more thoroughly.
Sure, he knows how, but sometimes he is just too tired, to keep doing it well. And is "lazy" about it.

Both my kids floss. They can and know how. They use those floss sticks. They like that better.

Both my kids shower mostly. Not tub baths.
They can do this by themselves.
Shampooing their hair, they can do this by themselves. But my 5 year old son, will sometimes get shampoo on his face (which he hates), so I will rinse off his hair.
And for my 5 year old, I wash his back for him because he can't reach back there.
They also dry themselves off.
They can and know how.
But anytime, they need help, they know they can call me.
Sure they can do these things at their ages. But its not always thorough. Depending on how tired they are or if they are in a rush to get out and play again.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

our kids' dentist also says to brush and floss for them until at least 8 years old because most kids won't do a good job. So we let them start it and we finish it.
My 6 year old can shower by herself.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Our son did better with brushing his teeth when he was 8, but then he started braces and he needed help to get clean around all the brackets and metal in his mouth.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

My 5 year old has been doing her own baths for about the last 6 months, and she's been brushing her own teeth since she was 3. I brush mine with her, so she sees how it's supposed to be done and I can help out if I think she's half-assing it.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

My daughter is almost 5 and more and more lately she's turning into Little-Miss-Independent-Big-Girl. I always let her brush her teeth at first to start, then finish up after, because I just can't quite trust her enough to do a good enough job on her own. She's finally decided also that showers are a good thing, so she's in there on her own but I'm there outside to squirt the shampoo in her hands, then I let her do some hair-washing herself, followed up by me scrubbing her scalp real well then making sure she rinses it all out. She's starting to do most of the body washing herself, but I still get her back.

So it doesn't have to be all or nothing...they can start getting the hang of being in charge of it themselves, then you can finish up real quick at the end!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My dd has been independent with teeth since age 6, but I still help her with shampooing hair. She has long hair and if I don't wash it a certain way, it turns into a tangled mess. I also help her put lotion on since she has excema and the lotion helps moisturize the skin. I have to comb out hair...she is 9.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

our dentist said that until age 10 he thinks parents should have the occasional turn.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

I think you're both fine. Just different. My girls are almost 5 and almost 6 and they've been brushing on their own for a year now. We go for dental xrays and cleanings every 6 months and they have not had any cavities and everything seems good.

The almost 6 year old showers on her own sometimes and shampoos and conditions her own hair sometimes. Other times I do it for her. My almost 5 yo cannot do it herself, I do it for her. They do soap and wash their own bodies. I will put their soap on their washcloth and remind them in a song to wash all their parts head to toe and have to show them how to make sure all the soap is off. Their idea of taking a bath is to lay in the water and play so it takes some supervision but not too bad.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

I remember reading somewhere along the way that most kids cannot physically manage to do a really good job on their own until they are like 6 or 7. I let my kids go to it younger than that, but I would periodically do a check and "help" at the end. Some kids are better at this than others (like in many things) so it isn't a hard and fast rule. You have to look at the kids themselves and their individual abilities, and also the amount of attention and care they take with the job.

My daughter has very long fine hair. She was not able to shampoo/condition it on her own until she was around 9 yrs old. And even now (turned 11 last week) I sometimes find suds in spots she missed. And we have a slide bar with a handheld shower attachment, so it isn't because she can't reach or adjust the shower spray.
Son? He's been showering since much younger, all on his own. But he has short hair, and that makes a difference. :)

I like your method, let them do it, and then you "finish it off" at the end to be sure they were thorough. :)

ETA: oooh... almost forgot. Even when they can do a good job of cleaning (both teeth and hair) that doesn't mean that they have mastered the art of applying products (toothpaste, shampoo/conditioner). My kids still have a tendency to squirt too much toothpaste (really a PEA is the only amount they need) and the shampoo bottle goes empty in 10 days in the bathroom my son uses. :(

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

by school age, the boys did it all on their own....with me running clean-up duty afterwards. If I found that they were skimping on technique, they had to do it all over. A few rounds of this, & all was well.

Children thrive on autonomy, & I applaud their ability to do so. :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

My GD started brushing her own teeth when she was six. Until then, I would let her do it, but I would go over them again. That way she got the practice, but I got the peace of mind knowing that they had been thoroughly and properly brushed.

As for soaping in the bath, she started doing that on her own when she was five. I shampooed her hair, however, until she was seven. She could have done her hair on her own earlier, but she said she liked it when I did it because I would massage her scalp!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on


My son (10 on Monday!!!) does his own, and I'll get in there every once in awhile and do it myself.

Heck... My dentist gets in there and does mine twice a year.

At 5ish I did my sons about once or twice a week. At 9 it's like once a month.

As far as hair... I do his occasionally just because it feels good OR Mr. 'Soap is for Losers' in the sink in the morning when he cheats and doesn't wash his.

He has short hair, though. Girls w long hair (or boys for that matter) often need help for a long time.

So in answer to your Q... Yes. Did it both ways.


answers from Rochester on

I brushed my daughter's teeth until she was five, and then I still occasionally supervise. Letting them learn is fine on some things, but teeth are important and you need to make sure they're clean...and they just don't have the dexterity to get every side of every tooth. My 7 year old STILL does not do the job I would do, and I do occasionally brush her teeth for her (although she mostly does it on her own.)

I also let her start taking her own showers at 5, but that was with supervision at first to make sure she was rinsing her hair well enough. I think at 5 they are plenty capable of washing their body, especially if you give them a loofah.



answers from Baton Rouge on

At four, my daughter was bathing herself, washing her hair, and brushing her teeth, with supervision.



answers from Dallas on

My kids are 8 and 5. They get to brush themselves in the morning, but mom or dad helps at night either by doing it for them or finishing up after they have had a turn. Your kids are not old enough to do it by themselves every time. The hygenist at our dentist office said it takes 2 days for plaque to harden into tarter on teeth so make sure and help brush the back teeth at least every other day until your child can thoroughly do it on their own. My oldest is just learning to shampoo his own hair, but has been bathing himself for a while. He does need help getting all the shampoo out though. I am a clean freak so I feel I need to practice with my oldest for as long as it takes to do a good job.

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