There are many things that matter to your toddler, from the wellbeing of his favourite teddy to whether Thomas is going to run off the track and what’s for tea. But one thing you can guarantee is he won’t be so bothered about a runny nose, paint-splattered hands or hair full of mashed biscuit. Trouble is, it’s important to you that your little one is clean and presentable. So just why can things like hand-washing and baths send your toddler into meltdown?
“A child can get easily worried or anxious if he feels a situation is out of his control,” explains Dr Nadja Reissland, senior lecturer in psychology at Durham University. “Toddlers are also extremely sensitive. If you’re dreading something like bathtime, they can pick up on your stress and react to it. They key is to stay calm and make it fun.”
Here’s our top tips for how to deal with 7 messy situations, so that you can turn trauma into tidiness from his head to his toes.
1) Having a haircut
An unruly set of locks is no barrier to playtime, so your toddler really won’t see the point – or entertain the idea – of sitting in a chair while someone fusses round him with scissors. The key is to keep the experience short and sweet, says children’s hairdresser Sally Nutcher (www.sallyscuts4kids.com). “Some kids just want to run around the salon and don’t want to sit still. Others are nervous and need reassurance. I have a DVD player in front of the chair to hold their attention while I whizz round cutting their hair as quickly as possible.”
How about getting them there first of all? Take a favourite toy, says Sally. “I find it works well if the parents tell their children what’s going to happen and how nice they look afterwards.”
2) Cutting nails
With 10 fingers and 10 toes to tend to, a manicure is quite a chore and way down on a toddler’s list of things they’d like to do. Especially when nice long ones can help with picking noses. “Toddlers are always putting their fingers in inappropriate places so keeping his nails short makes it much easier to keep them clean,” says environmental health and safety consultant Dr Lisa Ackerley. “But don’t cut them too short and risk nipping your child’s finger.”
Try cutting your own nails at the same time, so you’re both doing the same task. Seeing it doesn’t hurt you will reassure him it’s not going to be a painful experience. If he really won’t buy into clippers, try a small nail file instead. “It’s probably best to sit him on your lap with his back against your stomach, so it’s almost like cutting your own nails, allowing you to judge it better,” adds Lisa.
3) Cleaning teeth
Your toddler doesn’t mind going to bed with the taste of milk and biscuits lingering round his gnashers, but cleaning teeth is an important habit to get into for many reasons. “You may think they’re only milk teeth and that they’ll just fall out anyway,” says dentist Janet Clarke. “But brushing your toddler’s teeth is vitally important to stop gum disease and it helps to get him into a habit he’ll keep for life.”
Trouble is, he doesn’t want you fiddling around inside his mouth. “Choose a flavour of toothpaste he likes and a character toothbrush from his favourite TV show,” says Janet. “Then stand him in front of you, facing a mirror, and ask him to smile or roar like a lion while you brush his jaws. It’s best to aim for twice a day, after breakfast and before bed. That way, you’ll hopefully get him to clean them at least once.”
4) Blowing noses
Sometimes it can feel like your toddler’s nose is permanently running. And he won’t be at his most presentable when he’s either snorting and swallowing his nasal contents or rooting around in his nostrils for it. Delightful! But some patience is needed here, as toddlers can actually find it pretty hard to blow their nose, says Hannah Laurie, owner of the Peacock Montessori Nursery in Stuston, Suffolk.
“We explain it by telling them to push the air out of their nose,” she explains. “Afterwards we ask them to flush the tissue down the toilet and wash their hands. If we see a child with a finger up his or her nose, we just tell them it’s not a nice thing to do and encourage them to use a tissue.” Carrying funky coloured or branded tissues with you can help interest your tot in using one more often. And of course, make sure you set an example by using tissues yourself!
5) Wiping bottoms
From day one, you’ve wiped your little one’s bottom and taken pride in keeping him nice and clean. But once he’s potty trained, he needs to learn this essential skill for himself. “In the early days of potty training we always wipe the child’s bottom with toilet paper for children,” explains Hannah Laurie. “But once they’re clean, we encourage them to have a go at wiping themselves, then washing their hands. After three or four months, we let them wipe first but we always check.” Explain why you need to wipe a bottom, so he understands what you’re doing.
6) Washing hands
From digging in the dirt to covering himself in paint and other sticky goo, your toddler needs his hands washed often. “Hand-washing is the most important weapon in stopping the spread of germs,” says Dr Ackerley. “Kids should wash their hands before eating, after going to the toilet, playing outside or even getting up in the morning.” But how do you get that message through to him? “At the nursery we explain that it gets rid of the germs that can make their tummies poorly and that it’s nice to have clean hands,” says Hannah Laurie. “We even have books about germs to explain it clearly to children. You need to make it fun. Use a novelty soap dispenser or get a toy he can play with and wash at the same time in the sink.”
7) Having a bath
Most kids like splashing about in the bath but there are always some that run a mile. “To be honest it’s really not important to bath your toddler every day,” says Dr Ackerley. “Clean hands are more important than anything and you don’t need a bath for that.” But sometimes bathtime is essential. The key is fun. Props are essential, from toys to bubbles. Have a warm towel waiting for him when he gets out, and even his favourite PJs warmed on a radiator, and the promise of his favourite book afterwards.
“Ever since they were tiny, all three of my daughters have always hated having their nails cut. One day I told them that I’d paint their nails like big girls if they let me cut them – it worked a treat.”
Katie Kithakye, 35, from Portsmouth, mum to Jasmine, 9, Maisie, 6, and Libby, 2
“Getting William to wash his hands had turned into a constant battle. One day, I knocked up a chart on the computer with a picture of some hands. Whenever he washed his hands without a fuss, he got a sticker. After five stickers he got a treat, such as a colouring book. I was amazed that it worked so quickly.”
Charlie Alder, 41, from Exeter, mum to William, 3