How to Handle a Kid Who Refuses to Shower

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I know a certain 11-year-old who doesn’t want to do anything in the shower but wash her hair (because she likes how soft and pretty it is when it’s clean). She will go as far as turning on the shower to make us THINK she’s bathing, and then just wash her hair in the sink. She stinks. What do I do? -Jenelle, Iowa City, Iowa

Jenelle,

Gross!

Don’t take that the wrong way.

But seriously, gross.

First, let’s get something out of the way: your kid isn’t allowed to stink. Unless you think that’s OK.

But you don’t, so it isn’t.

This answer goes pretty deep and involves “what ifs” just in case she really goes for broke. Here’s how I would stop the stinkiness if I were you.

Kid Whisperer: Phew! That is certainly a powerful and horrifying odor.

Kid: I am expressing myself by stinking.

Kid Whisperer: Alrighty. I allow kids into public who have bathed away the stench and smell nice. You can leave the house once you have made that happen.

Kid: BUT I HATE SHOWERING AND MY FRIENDS DON’T MIND MY STINKINESS! IN FACT, THEY SEE IT AS A TREMENDOUS VIRTUE!

Kid Whisperer: Alrighty.

Kid: So, can I go over to Mary’s tonight like we planned?

Kid Whisperer: What did I say about that?

Kid: I can’t go until I’m clean?

Kid Whisperer: Correct.

Kid: THAT’S NOT FAIR!!!

Kid Whisperer: Alrighty.

Kid: What if I just leave and go to Mary’s?

Kid Whisperer: Is this a trick question?

Kid: NO! You can’t stop me!

Kid Whisperer: I suppose that’s true. You are very quick, and strong, and stealthy, and I certainly can’t lock you in your room forever.

Kid: It’s only 10 miles and across the highway. I am in charge of me and I will do whatever I want!

Kid Whisperer: I suppose, to answer your question, that if you leave the house to walk ten miles across a highway, even after I have told you not to do that, I would just call the police so they could do whatever they do to keep you safe.

Kid: THAT’S NOT FAIR!

Kid Whisperer: Alrighty.

Kid: Stop saying that!

Kid Whisperer: I’ll love you no matter what you decide to do tonight. I trust that you will make a good choice.

Notice how I didn’t try to control the uncontrollable and I didn’t get sucked into an unwinnable argument. Handling it this way says to Kid: “I love you, I am in charge, your attempts at manipulation have failed, and once again, I love you.”