It’s proper etiquette and good hygiene to teach children to wash their hands before coming to the table. There are actually two parts to this lesson: The learning to wash part, and then getting them to actually do it before coming to the table.
The first is the easy part: the “how to wash your hands” lesson is just one example of helping our children develop skills and foster autonomy. It’s the second lesson that mystifies parents; now you know they CAN wash their hands, but they WON’T. Each night find yourself having to remind them, yell at them, or sometimes you even resort to doing it for them.
Children usually refuse to wash their hands because they don’t want you bossing them around with your “orders”. They perceive that you are exerting your personal power over them when you say, “Go wash your hands.” I know – it wasn’t your intent to be all controlling, you were only concerned with enforcing good hygiene and etiquette. Sorry, but we parents don’t come off that way to our children. They get instructions most of their day! It’s off-putting to them.
We can reduce the likelihood of stirring up a power struggle by using a “When ____ then ____” statement. It looks like this: “When your hands are washed, then I’ll know you are ready for supper.” Said this way, the child is in control of their choices, while the parent is in control of maintaining the social order of the household. They are NOT telling the child what to do, but simply stating that cleans hands are a requirement of eating. Notice how different that feels from hearing, “If you don’t wash your hands, you don’t get dinner.” Ouch. That statement is a threat! The power resides with the parent, and it invites resistance and rebellion.
Try a simple when ___ then ___ statement and don’t waiver on the wording. Let me know how it goes!