Teach Kids to Actually Wear Sunscreen

Dr. G, I feel awful! My kids got sunburned this weekend. In the rush of getting three children out the door and to an activity, and then get settled when we’re there, I don’t always remember to put the sunscreen on until it’s too late. My kids are 11, 9 and 6 and I want them to have good habits. Do you have any suggestions?

Anonymous, in MN

Building a new habit is hard! It takes 3-6 months to make something so normal that you remember it without thinking about it. In Minnesota I have to imagine that in 6 months you’ll be thinking more about remembering your mittens than your sunblock. Of course, it’s a great habit even in winter, especially for kids playing in the snow.

There is a lot to know about sunscreen, check out my What You Need to Know post for the nitty gritty. Sunscreen works best when it’s applied 15-20 minutes before sun exposure. So you definitely want to put it on before getting in the car to go to your activity. Then it needs to be reapplied every 1-2 hours and when the child wet. For my kids I like spray for their bodies and the stick for their faces.

The easiest way is to connect it to an existing habit.

  1. Rubber band a bottle of sunscreen to the kids’ toothpaste. This will remind them to put it on before leaving the house.  Put your kids in charge of the first dose before going out. Building good skin-health habits means getting the kids to take responsibility, even though you supervise.
  2. Put it with the breakfast cereal or the dishes. Whoever sets the table gets to nag his or her siblings to put on their sunscreen – can’t have breakfast til it’s done!
  3. Put it on the mousepad or rubber band it to the TV remote. You can add a note: “No screen time before sunscreen!”
  4. Attach it to their water bottles. Most kids get thirsty a lot when playing outside. If they run into the sunscreen every time they get a drink, that will serve as a great reminder to each of you to re-apply.

Put sunscreen in your way.

  1. Take a picture on your phone. Now make that your wallpaper. Set an alarm to go off every hour or two while you’re out, have it say “Stop sunburn!”
  2. Store your sunscreen bottle in your shoe (or your child’s). Sound strange? Stand the bottle up in a shoe that you know will get worn that day, hard to put on the shoe without noticing the sunscreen.
  3. Hang a closet organizer from the handle of the front door. Put a bottle of sunscreen spray, a sunscreen face stick and a couple of water bottles in there. This way you can remind your kids to get their sunscreen on before getting in the car and it’s easy to grab the whole thing to stick in the car.
  4. Put a note on the front door or your steering wheel. My husband does this for anything he wants to remember. The kids love reading his notes and reminding him of what he needs.

 

What do you do to help remember the sunscreen, and teach your kids to remember it on their own?

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