Somewhere between little and big comes the nearly teen or “tween”. The tween years range from age 8 to 14. During this time, hormone levels shift, height, size and shape change and the reproductive system matures. The timetable for these changes varies by gender and race, so the timing of each child’s experience may be different.

At tween time, smelly socks and goofy hats don’t suddenly go away, but the keeper of those socks and goofy hats shifts from parent to child. The tween might start to take charge of his or her skin, hair, nails, lips and teeth, and the parent becomes the personal hygiene coach.

Tips for the parent coach

  • Set an example. Your child watches how you treat your own skin, hair, nails, lips and teeth. Leading by a good example is often the best teacher. For example, if you and your child both have dry itchy skin, your own bathing routine might be just right for your child.
  • For special situations, such as very dry skin or habitual nail-biting, talk to your pediatrician. If your child wears dental braces or appliances, ask your orthodontist about teeth and gum care.
  • Pay attention to the advertisements aimed at your child. Many hygiene products promise popularity, but give your child facts instead. Facts are better than promises.
  • Be matter-of-fact. Think of yourself as a body-science teacher.
  • Keep up-to-date about hygiene for “tweens” and teens. Get general information from your pediatrician, school nurse or the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Family Resource Center.

Body facts for parents to know

  • Our body oil is the skin’s natural moisturizer. Scrubbing off all the oil can lead to dry, cracked, and itchy skin. Acne is not cured by vigorous scrubbing.
  • Sweat is not shameful. Sweat is mostly water that helps cool us off. We make sweat all over our body. In the tween years, special sweat glands in our armpits start to work. Sometimes our regular sweat glands are extra active, too.
  • Body odor is mostly caused by bacteria on our skin. After “chewing” on dead skin cells and sweat, some bacteria make an odor we don’t like, but anti-bacterial soaps are usually not needed at home. A daily bath or shower with a mild soap is usually quite fine for reducing body odor.
  • Deodorant is OK, but never use it in place of a daily bath or shower. Remember that perfumes sometimes cause people to cough. Nothing smells better than clean skin.
  • Tween girls might notice a thin, whitish mucous in the underwear. This mucous may start months before the menstrual cycles start. Prepare your daughter for the normal changes that will happen as she grows up.

Daily routines for tweens

  • Brush and floss your teeth. Twice a day is best, and use only a pea-sized dab of toothpaste. Don’t skip the bedtime brushing. (Those bacteria like to feast in a sleeping mouth.)
  • Wash and carefully dry five body zones: feet, face, hands, armpits and bottom.
  • Remember to scrub under your fingernails. 
  • Wash the area between your legs as you’ve been taught.
  • Wear clean socks and underpants.
  • Put on shoes that have aired out overnight (or longer).
  • Care for your hair as you’ve been taught. Learn from Mom or Dad how to keep your hair healthy; follow that routine.
  • If you are thinking about removing body hair, make that choice carefully. Before shaving, waxing or plucking, talk to Mom or Dad. What sounds easy often isn’t.
  • Don’t share personal items with other people (not even your brother or sister)! Personal items include toothbrush, hairbrush, washcloth, towel, cup and razor.

This article was written by Diane DuBois, RN, a pediatric nurse at the St. Louis Children's Hospital Answer Line.

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