Tuesday Topic: How do We Overcome Hygiene Challenges?

Last week’s Tuesday Topic on privileges for teens was great and I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts today.  This week’s question is,

I have a child who suffered profound neglect in her early childhood.  Now she is a preteen and her hygiene skills are abysmal.  She does not seem to notice or feel mucous running out of her nose, crusty eyes, or food on her face.  She refuses to do her hair and resists showering.  It is difficult to share a meal with her due to her table  manners; even after many years home, she often defaults to eating with both hands. I should add that she does not have cognitive delays that contribute to this problem.  Do you or your readers have any suggestions that might help?

I am quite sure there are many of you who have ideas for our friend.  Big or small, please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

If you have a question you would like presented as a Tuesday Topic, please email it to me at lisa@onethankfulmom.com with “Tuesday Topic” in the subject line.  I’m low on topics/questions at the moment and would love to replenish my supply.

#871 – 880 giving thanks

Mimi’s birthday today

taking her to lunch – just the two of us

sunshine streaming in the kitchen window

daffodils coming up in the gardens

taking a walk and talking on the phone to Russ the entire time

my husband

the last chapter of Hebrews

Little House on the Prairie

smart people who share their talent on websites, free of charge

little boys sleeping while I write

Have a great Tuesday, friends.  Please leave a comment, and don’t forget to email me a question for a future Tuesday Topic.






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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Erin
    April 3, 2012

    I wonder how much of this could be sensory integration related? My 8 year old has sensory integration disorder, and is very resistant to hair brushing, wiping in the bathroom, tooth brushing effectively, etc. because of the way those things feel to him.working with an OT for a couple of months made a big difference for him.

  2. Susan Gutting
    April 3, 2012

    You are really something, Lisa. Love what you are doing to help folks on a very tough journey. Susan

    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 3, 2012

      Thank you, Susan. It was so nice to reconnect with you at Gretchen's reception. I've been loving seeing your artwork on FB; you do God honor with the effort you have put toward cultivating your gift.

  3. Mary (Owlhaven)
    April 3, 2012

    I think I'd probably just gently consistently help her wash her face and do her hair and blow her nose, etc…do the tasks for her. Tell her she can start doing it for herself anytime she is ready, but until she is ready to do it for herself, you will be glad to do the momma-thing and help her.

  4. berjiboo
    April 3, 2012

    I don't really have any solutions because our son too has poor hygiene and uses toileting to communicate rather than words. But, when talking to him about bodily functions, cleanliness etc, I try to couch it in terms of "treating himself with respect" or "loving himself". At this point he still doesn't appear to love himself or care about treating himself with respect, but I pray that one day he will and he will understand that this is about taking care of himself, not about attracting or pushing people away based on his mood.

  5. Cindy
    April 4, 2012

    I too have a child who has similar issues. She also has sensory problems, but I think this is primarily unrelated. Generally, we practice together. At home, we practice using napkins (putting them in our laps), waiting for everyone to be served before anyone starts eating, not wiping our mouths on our clothes, etc. Eating with hands instead of utensils is a particular rub for me. If possible, I try to fix some type of finger food at each meal (even a vegetable she can dip) and we talk about which foods on the plate would be easiest and neatest eaten with fingers and which ones need a utensil… and then we practice. She also tends to almost put her face into her plate when she eats, that we haven't conquered at all, but she gets prompts. I try to explain to her that in the right settings, if she learns these skills, she can actually help others.

    Toothbrushing and skin washing is a nightmare! I've gotten a whiteboard and put a checklist on the way out of the bathroom that she has to go over each day to try to cover hygiene problems (deodorant, teeth, hair, skin etc). If she does all of that for a week then she earns small amounts of money in an acct to buy something she wants down the road. Hopefully, it will become habit forming and eventually that won't be required.

    My daughter has required residential placement on several occasions and I find that her hygiene skills and table manners take sharp declines while there.

    Hopefully, this is helpful.

  6. Bridget
    April 6, 2012

    Oh bless you….I know this struggle very well. We adopted a 14 year old boy who is now 18 and experiencing life on his own. Unfortunately, you can't erase those past hurts to help them overcome the real root of the problem. So we approached the issue from multiple fronts. a. Praise, praise, praise when he did take care of himself. b. we approached a close personal friend of his and his parents to enlist their help in helping us help our son — he modeled behavior (for example, "hey man I need to go brush my teeth before bed so we'll chat tomorrow", cloths shopping with him, etc.) c. Helping our son recognize his divine nature and self-respect and d. sometimes we just had to be honest. "If you don't shower today, I can't take you to X. I'm sorry, you didn't shower. Your friends will be disappointed. Maybe next time." That was very hard. He's now 18 and experiencing life on his own and while it isn't great, it is certainly better.

    Self care for private areas is the hardest and I can only imagine how that must be for a young lady. I had to take my son to the doctor and have the doctor explain because he just wasn't taking care of himself like we were trying to teach. That definitely helped.

    Prayers coming your way…it certainly wasn't a challenge of adoption that I was expecting. 🙂


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