With his improved language skills, your three-year-old can now understand why he needs to:
- bathe and shampoo regularly;
- brush his teeth at least twice a day;
- use a tissue to blow his nose;
- cover his mouth when he coughs or sneezes;
- change his clothes every once in a while; and even
- comb or brush his hair.
In fact, not only is your child capable of understanding the reasons behind these practices, it will become increasingly important to him to know the underlying rationale behind certain actions. (Just think how many times your child asks, "Why?" about every little thing.)
So take the time to explain hygiene to your preschooler. You will probably get more cooperation in bathing, brushing, and cutting down on the spread of germs if you explain your reasoning than if you just say, "Because I said so!"
In explaining why your child needs to stay clean, try not to exaggerate the power that germs have to make him sick. Some preschoolers (and five- and six-year-olds as well) get obsessive about hand washing because they become so afraid of the germs that might make them sick. Remember, what you're trying to nurture here is good hygiene, not obsessive cleanliness.
Let your child know, for example, that germs can make him sick, but that hand-washing or bathing will help kill the germs. Let him know that food left in the teeth and gums will eat away at the enamel coating and allow germs to take up residence in his teeth. (If this rational explanation doesn't work, try telling him that the tooth fairy prefers clean, white teeth with no cavities.)
After your child understands the rationale behind hygienic practices, make sure you stick to routines. Your three-year-old will wonder just how important it really is if you consistently forget to help him wash his hands before dinner or after using the toilet or if you neglect to brush his teeth after a meal or before bed.
At the same time, recognize that kids do get dirty. Yes, it's important that your child wash hands before eating and after using the toilet. But don't drive yourself crazy trying to keep your preschooler clean. With many kids this age, it just can't be done. And even if it can, you will inhibit your preschooler's inclination to explore and develop his physical potential if you're constantly urging him to stay clean.