Dear Dr. Michelle:
I just read an article on lack of hygiene with an adopted child who has now returned home. I am having trouble with my adopted 22-year-old and her lack of care. She smells, wears dirty stained clothes, and doesn't brush her teeth or hair. However, she doesn't live with us so I can't control some of the things that would make this better. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
I am glad that you are searching for more information after reading the article. Hygiene is a topic we have covered a few times in our column. You can find past posts below.
- My Adult Child Does Not Take Care of Her Hygiene
- Hygiene and Mental Health
- My Teenage Son Doesn't Want to Take Care of Himself. Is This Normal for Teens?
There are a few additional suggestions I have about your concerns.
Is There a Pattern?
Since your daughter does not live with you, start by determining if what you are observing is her day-to-day habits or irregular occurrences. For instance, do you see her after she has exercised, on her days off from work, or right after she gets out of bed? If so, these can be times where poor hygiene follows. Determine if you are seeing your daughter before she completes her daily hygiene habits, and if this is the case, it is best that you let the issue be.
People with hygiene problems often become tolerant of the issue. They can become out of touch with the fact that others around them notice or are being directly impacted. Because of this, they will not generally change these habits on their own, rather, they will need somebody to bring awareness to the issue. The best way to deal with hygiene concerns is to have a direct conversation about your observations. These are not issues that you can hint at or make subtle remarks about. Using a nonjudgmental tone, you can be clear about what you are seeing and smelling. Approach these conversations with love and concern and be sure to explain the reason you are telling her about your observations – because you are worried about her, about how you and others around her are being impacted by her hygiene and how others may judge her or treat her as a result.
Education and Support
You might consider adding some educational tips as well. Explain the impact her hygiene might have on her job and her ability to advance or even be allowed to stay at her job if she does not maintain healthy hygiene. Discuss the cost of dental work and the long-term, permanent negative consequences of not flossing and brushing her teeth. Explain how her hygiene could have an impact on whether friends and family members want to include her in events or gatherings.
Even though your daughter does not live with you, you can still support her healthy hygiene habits by educating her and/or supplying her with hygiene products. If your daughter lacks education about how to wash herself properly or how to launder her clothing successfully, seek her permission to educate her.
Consider all the ways you are willing and able to support her good hygiene practices. Can you offer to do her laundry so that her clothes are washed properly? Can you afford to help her with quality hygiene products? Perhaps your daughter cannot afford quality products or is rationing the use of products to make them last longer. Consider supplying shampoo, soaps, laundry detergent, electric toothbrush, or other products on an ongoing basis. You could also offer to pay for her regular dental check-ups.
Can your daughter afford clothes without permanent stains? If this is a legitimate concern, and if you have the resources, ask her if you can buy her clothes and if she is willing to wear the new items in place of her stained ones. If you are financially assisting with her hygiene needs, you need to allow your daughter to pick out what she wants, so long as her choices fit your budget. Your help should not be about controlling what she uses or what she wears, but rather, the opportunity for you to support her practicing good hygiene.
Don't Try To Fix Everything At Once
When it comes to hygiene issues, pick and choose the most important areas in which to focus. If everything is an issue, your daughter will more likely retreat from your advice. For example, if the most important area is that daughter does not brush her hair and her clothing has stains, take the opportunity to educate her about what circumstances might require a different, or more professional approach – places such as a work environment, school, going to see a doctor, appearing in court. If your daughter chooses to shop, run errands, go to the grocery store, or hang out with her friends with unbrushed hair and stained clothes, you should consider letting that go and not making it an issue.
Given that your daughter is an adult and not living with you, your role is limited to informing and supporting her in changing her habits. She is the only one that can decide to change her practices and to utilize your help. If after all attempts to support your daughter the issues remain, you must prepare yourself to accept her decision. Ultimately, she is the only one in control of how she takes care of herself.
You can accept her decisions while also having appropriate boundaries and limits. For instance, perhaps you are willing to run errands with her, but you cannot invite her over to your house if you are throwing a large party with a lot of people because of how her poor hygiene could affect the guests. Or you may decide she cannot join you out for dinner because of how it might affect others around her. Just remember that maintaining limits is not the same as threatening or bribing, which should be avoided at all costs.
Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature. The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.