As far as lessons to pass on, teaching your son about grooming is one of those rites of passage as old as time. Right up there with throwing a football and not asking for directions. That’s why it’s important to start talking to your son about personal hygiene at an early age. Young boys tend to see their fathers as superheroes, so it behooves you to use this to your advantage. Unfortunately, my son’s superhero moniker for me is “The Windbreaker,” but I’m doing my best to atone for that in any way possible, starting with writing this very article.
Alas, all many of us can remember from our own childhoods are Discmen, the terrible tongue-pain from Nerds binges, and “up up, down down, left right left right, B A, start“. So when it comes to teaching my son his most important lessons, I often feel like I’m flying blind—so I try to take advice wherever I can get it. Here’s a little of that wisdom I can pass on to you.
Teaching personal grooming to your son is a very intimate thing, so it’s best to make it feel normal as early as possible. I remember talking to my son about the importance of being clean and fresh from his first year of life. During bath time, I’d emphasize how important it was that he always wash his head, shoulders, knees and toes… knees and toes. Not to mention his back, elbows, twig and berries…. twig and berries.
Whether he understood the words I was saying or not, the repetition and ritual of washing and rinsing became part of his daily routine. That’s the first step to ensuring that your son will enjoy a lifetime of not being “the stinky kid” in class (you know who you are). I tried to make bath time a calming and joyful experience, in the hopes that it would remain so as he got older. Laying that type of foundation for your son is the perfect way to introduce him to the importance of personal care.
WHATS THE RIGHT AGE TO REALLY START TEACHING?
It’s different for every boy. It depends upon a number of factors including age, maturity, and even activity level. Many fathers assume that the onset of puberty is the right time to have this discussion. I would argue that starting at puberty is probably a bit too late.
Boys have plenty of pungent aromas buzzing around their little bodies far before hormones take the wheel. Around 7 years old, my son’s body started letting us know a chat was in order. If I’m being honest, the conversation was started by his feet, with his armpits chiming in not long after.
As with most issues for parents, intuition might be the greatest tool at your disposal. At some point, you’ll notice that he stops naturally smelling like baby powder and giggles, and starts smelling like… you (the horror!) My best advice would just be to pay attention to your little man and be as present as you possibly can. That may not sound like the most groundbreaking of advice, but it gets forgotten far too often.
HOW TO OPEN THE CONVERSATION
Be direct. That’s something that we dads sometimes forget. When it comes to grooming, making indirect suggestions and throwing hints just won’t do. I find the best way to open any conversation with my son is to highlight what we have in common on that specific topic. What you should never do is shame or embarrass him.
You might think that blurting out “Your feet smell like Doritos!” would be a light way to bring up the topic, but all that does is make him feel bad about himself, and that’s the last thing you want. Teaching him about self-care is all about building his confidence and making him proud of who he is.
Start by explaining that he’s getting older, and that the beginning of this new chapter is a milestone. Tell him that you’re proud of how he’s maturing into a young man, and that you’re happy because the older he gets, the more you’ll have in common.
Make grooming something you can do together, creating a special father-son bond. This may seem like a small thing, but I try to brush my teeth with my son every morning and every night. That way he gets a good view of what brushing should look like, and it reinforces in his mind that good grooming habits makes him like dad. These types of experiences can also create special memories for your son that he’ll never forget.
MAKE IT A TWO-WAY STREET
Once you’ve started the teaching process, include him as a peer in the topic of grooming and cleanliness. As he gets older, ask what works for him and what doesn’t. A conversation is usually more effective than a lecture. It becomes a moment of sharing and connection rather than a dressing down.
Take some time out when you’re shopping to walk him down the toiletries aisle at the store. Talk with him about shampoos, conditioners, deodorant, etc. Let him smell the different products and choose what he wants for himself. Then he’ll start to feel like the grooming is part of who he is and a means of expressing his individuality.
Give him compliments and let him know you’re paying attention. Boys want to make their dads proud, so give him that. Positive reinforcement is one of the most powerful tools in your dad arsenal to entrench good habits. Don’t necessarily do it in front of a lot of people because that may embarrass him, but make him feel good for taking care of his body. Impress upon him that good hygiene is the same as good manners. It’s about making those around you as comfortable as possible. And remind him that if you notice how good he looks and smells, his peers and crushes will too. That will keep him interested in grooming, even when you’re not around.
NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY
Now that you’ve read and taken all of my worldly wisdom to heart, forget it all. OK, don’t forget it. But remember that my son is not your son. And your son is not your neighbor’s son. You have to recognize that every little boy is an individual with his own specific quirks, temperament, and needs. If you don’t quite know what to do, don’t let that be an excuse to do nothing. Take those first few uncertain steps to get to know your son. Sure, he’s cut from the same cloth as you, but he may have very different hopes and fears.
Do your best to connect with your son on a deeper level. If you’re going to advise him throughout his life, he’ll need you to truly know and understand him. Even if you’re polar opposites, understanding what makes him tick will be the key to helping him be the best version of himself. After all, the last thing his future spouse wants is for her husband to be known around the house as “The Windbreaker”.