teenage daughter refuses to take a shower

by Kathy
(New York)

My Daughter is 15 years old and refuses to take a shower. When she is told she needs to take a shower after 3 or 4 days without taking one she yells and fights with her dad and I and says I am tired I'll take it in the morning. When the morning comes she has another excuse why she can't take it. Please do you have any advice I can use to help her want to care about herself?

Ben's Answer:

I'd be curious about the reason why she has so little self-esteem that she's willing to neglect her basic hygiene this way. If you're locked into a power struggle with her about showering, you may very well lose that fight. You could try to use some sort of coercion if you have leverage (something she wants) to get her to shower at least every other day or something. But it's not likely to achieve the most important purpose - her caring about herself. It may be that she is depressed. Sometimes kids and teens show more irritability, agitation and oppositional type behavior as signs of depression.

Not showering may also be a way for her to repel people and avoid attention by boys. It may be that she's been hurt in some way, and is trying to not be attractive.

It might be a good idea for her to talk to a therapist. When kids make a positive connection with a therapist, things often change for the better very quickly.

Any activity that can raise her self-esteem would be great to try, but if she's given up on everything, therapy is probably the place to start. You can always tell her you feel she could benefit from talking to a neutral, caring adult, besides her parents, who will hold things in confidence and help her get things off her chest.

Take Care,
Ben Schwarcz, MFT
Santa Rosa Psychotherpist

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Feb 03, 2018
Just chill NEW
by: Gal in Bflo NY

It bothers me that my daughter won’t bathe. She is 11. She has little dandruff flakies throughout her otherwise beautiful hair. But I won’t take it to the level of a screaming match. Cuz in the end she is alive, and at home she feels secure, happy and healthy.

Outside home she has anxiety and school refusal. Tourettes, OCD, ADHD triad makes it hard for her. She has been in private school her whole life, and I pay a full time paraprofessional aide to implement her IEP in the classroom.

She is socially isolated at school due to Aspie-like behaviors: narrow interests, in her own world, shrinks in group situations, selective mutism, etc. Not bathing won’t win her any friends.

She has sensory issues, so she uses saline baby wipes to stay clean where it matters most. But she does need to soak and scrub off old skin, which she won’t do.

Very frustrating. But I pick my battles. And "Thanks" to the laid back gal in Austrslia.

Sep 11, 2017
Have you considered
by: Anonymous

Have you researched behavior issues?. My daughter refuses to do anything and manipulates people to get her way. She has refused bathing for years now since she was around 7/8 yrs old. It's come to light that she has PDA Pathological Demand Avoidance. Daily demands cause anxiety. She will scream, cry, verbally abuse me when she is in meltdown over having to do something or something asked of her. It's worth looking at as if it's anxiety based refusal then care needs to be taken and strategies suitable for them found.

Ben's note:

Many kids today suffer from an inability to handle their own frustration. This kind of rigid behavior is often seen in Autistic Spectrum disorder, however we are witnessing a generation that is also dealing with host of neurological issues, sensory integration issues, OCD and anxiety due to multiple factors. These kids are often labeled as oppositional or defiant when the fact is, many of them are simply overwhelmed with even a small request when it interrupts them from doing what is comfortable. Addiction to cell phones and computers is a major escape and can feed into this avoidant behavior and tendency to become overwhelmed. Removing distractions is one key thing to consider. But being punitive or shaming is definitely not going to be helpful - and can make it worse - in many cases. Being harsh and disciplinarian, yelling and fighting with your kid is likely to force them into greater overwhelm and cause them to get used to escalating into a fight, rather than teaching them to get grounded, calm their emotions and think clearly to make good decisions. Be kind, be firm, don't fight and argue. Give choices when you can. "You can take a shower now, or this evening. But you can't have your cell phone until you've had your shower. The choice is still yours."

I realize it's not always about cell phones, but I'm just giving an example that many parents will relate to.

The cycle of parental anxiety, exhaustion and frustration that results from dealing with kids that don't do what we ask of them, can become a vicious circle as your anger triggers them further, makes them feel ashamed and erodes their self-respect. You have to be firm, clear, but neutral. Not feeding more anger and emotion into the situation. You have to find a way to see the best in your child and not expect the worst (even when you are used to this bad behavior). Kids will rise to positive expectations when you sincerely believe in them. When you expect them to melt down, they probably will.

Parenting is the hardest job we will ever have. Don't give up on yourself or your kids. It can get better.

- Ben Schwarcz

Dec 05, 2015
Does it ever end?
by: Anonymous

Ignore this poor behavior has landed me a 21 year old daughter that I still fight with to shower. I find she's just too lazy to wash her own butt. It takes me 2 days of fighting with her to get her to shower. It's embarrassing to be in public with her stinking, so I take on the fight and always win. I just wish I didn't have to go through such drastic screaming matches to get her to take care of herself. It is taking a toll on our relationship.

Ben's Reply:

To the parent of the 14 year old who wont shower because it takes too long - I would say - take away the cell phone and the ipod and see how long it takes before she gets in the shower. But for the parent of the 21 year old - more power too you. Not sure what leverage you have but use what you've got. Some "kids" are still very immature at age 21 and beyond.

Best Wishes,

Nov 09, 2015
Don't stress
by: Anonymous

Get over it people. It's totally normal for pre teens and teens to not shower. The other stuff they are doing is more fun. It's that simple. Not a therapy issue or a sign that something is wrong. Just a sign that they no longer count you as the boss of them. Complaining about their smell in a fun manner is all that works on 3 out of 4 of my kids. The one that showers all the time is a peacock and not a reflection of normal behavior. In Australia nowdays forcing children to bathe can be considered abuse, not something I agree with. So when your kid doesn't want to shower just chill cos it's something that they do. Also in my entire life I have never heard a person say that raising their teenager was a pleasure, if no showers are your biggest concern you have it easy.

Jan 27, 2013
teenage daughter refuses to take a shower
by: Anonymous

Ok my step daughter is 14 will not take a shower ( it takes too long) she won't even change her clothes a lot of the time. She has a whole team of people that she sees. School counselor, therapist, psychiatrist, therapeutic mentor, in-home therapy and we still struggle. Its so hard.

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