Need help in teaching Personal Hygiene and Table Manners


My husband and I are very frustrated everyday, and are struggling to teach his younger son (6) personal hygiene and table manners. We desperately need suggestions.

No matter how many times we tell him not to, or what to do, he continues to disappoint us because he either forgets or he does not care. My husband and I are quite clean and tidy. Though we won't say we have a cover-page model home, we are seldom embarrassed by our cleaniness when we have surprise guests. We teach all our kids same way, the older son (8) and our daughter (16 mos) are very cautious about cleaniness. Even our daughter knows how to pick up her toys after playing, or wants to wipe her mouth after big bites. Somehow our 6-yo son is really messy and dirty and we are out of ideas.

Here are some issues we are facing:

1) At dinner table (we have dinner together every night of the week when they are with us, 4 nights/wk), he eats so messy that we give him an extra large plate under his bowl. He looks around and not concentrate on his food, so when we have rice (what we eat usually), he will have rice all over his face, body, and legs. Not sure how, but he has rice even on his back and his butt. He had pepperoni on his head while he eats pizza!!! We have tried making him wipe off the table and pick up the mess by himself but he continues to make mess.

2) Urinate outside of the toilet bowl and onto the floor behind the toilet, even we repeatedly nagged him not to, and told him to hold 'it' while urinating, he continues not to and makes big mess. We have tried to make him clean it up by himself but he does not feel disgusted afterwards and continues such behavior. He does not even get disgusted by poopoo in his pants.

3) No matter how we teach him to take shower everyday, he does not do it when he goes back to his bio mom. He can stay without shower as many days as he stays there.

4) Bites his finger nails and puts his hands into his mouth regardless how many times we told him not to. We even have tried to put chili pepper on his finger tips until we saw a news about a woman putting into jail because she fed her daughter hot stuff and caused choking. He would not wash his hands, we always have to force him and wash his hands for him.

5) He cannot eat a lollipop without having his drools all over his hands and down to his elbows, or eating ice-cream without spreading it all over his face. He does not wipe his mouth or wash his hands after meal, but we always have to make him do so. Everyday when he comes back from school, you can tell what he ate at school.

I can go on and on, but another question is, is it still considered as normal behavior to a 6.5 year-old? He does really well academically, and is even capable of learning 2-grade maths, but he cannot live a month without wetting his pants, or a week without throwing a fit. His poor hygiene is causing him to get sick all the time and is also spreading germs to his other sublings. We have tried nagging him, teaching him the importance about staying clean and tidy, importance about good table manners, or taking his favorite things away from him, making him do houseworks, etc. Nothing works because he himself does not feel necessary to be clean and tidy. Help!

Comments (12)
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A few observations.

I think the child must be well aware of what you think of him, how you are disappointed etc. This is not good, try to look at the situation as a problem without annoyance, I know this is hard. Try to get the boy involved in solving the problem, ask him how he could remember to do things.

I would wonder why he is doing all these things, and from what you say, it seems he could possibly have some behavioural problem. Perhaps a visit to a health professional, and have a chat with them.

A certain amount of mess is normal, I think. My son still drops rice under his chair at the dinner table !


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My oldest ds is almost 7 yo. He trys harder than what you're describing, but he still isn't entirely coordinated. His younger brother and sister have always been more coordinated than him.

1.) He sometimes makes messes with rice, yogurt, pudding like you're describing. We just encourage him to eat slower and take smaller bites.

2.) I don't have the peeing problem with my kids. From what I hear it's common. One of my friend's banned a neighbor kid from the bathroom at her house because he was always missing the toilet and peeing on the wall.

My kids do care if they get poop in their pants. You can buy pre-moistened wipes or make your own with paper towels and water. Teach him to wipe using a certain amount of tiolet paper and then allow him to use one or two wipes. Encourage him, but don't nag. Help him and then say something, doesn't it feel good to get all that off. Accidents are still going to happen. Encourage him to ask for help if he needs it. For instance my kids recently had the flu. They told me when they had an accident and I just gave them new underwear and took the old ones. I tried not to embarrass them and they felt comfortable.

3.) My kid don't shower. They take bubble baths...several a day if I'd let them. My kids have so much fun they don't realize they are getting clean. Get some bath toys and bubbles and see how your ds reacts. If he's not taking baths at the biomoms house, then she's more a problem than he is.

4.) The lack of hand washing is common. My kids will do it if I ask them, but it's not voluntary. I think school only makes it worse because of the time crunch at lunch time and bathroom time.

5.) It's common. I've eaten lunch at school with my child a few times. Some kids are better, but many are not. It isn't fun to sit next to someone elses messy child, but it does provide perspective.

I know it's frustrating. My suggestion is not to nag. Positive rewards for good behavior are better. Since many of your complaints are about eating, I'd suggest related rewards. For instance, if your ds can take smaller bites, not make a mess and wipe his mouth, then take him to McDonalds or someplace for an ice cream cone. If he'll stop biting his nails for an extended period of time,take him to the park. Compliment him when you see him doing something right. It may take a little while, but he'll eventually get there.

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Thank you, popi, I just talked to my husband and we felt there might be a need to take our son for a check up for ADHD, as he also cannot stand still either.

Thank you, adellabedella.
1) When we tell him to eat slowly with smaller bites, he ends up not eating at all. Now we changed our strategy to letting them start their free time as soon as they finish dinner before schedule. (we scheduled them with an hour of free time after dinner, then followed by study time) As a result, he eats well but got messes everywhere. I will try to use the other reward methods you suggested.

2) I think the biggest problem is not about having an accident but that he did not feel disgusted. Last time he had an accident we did not blame him. However we got furious because he wanted to wear the SAME pair of pants even after he saw the poop on it! He did not let us wash it and threw a fit because we told him he had to change his pants. He almost got a spanking because of that.

3) I agree most kids do not like showers or even baths, and I think you are right that may be he is too spoiled at his mom's house.

OK, I will try to take it easier on the 4) and 5) and give him less nagging.

Oh, one more thing, I don't understand why my kids only respond to yelling or raising voices? I am not a short-tempered person, so I always start out with a nice voice but the boys will ignore me until I raise my voice. And poor Dad has also learned to give strict command tone immediately.

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I think maybe it is a little deeper than behavioral problem. A 6 year old should not poopoo in his pants. Messy manners is one thing, but what you describe is beyond my version of normal. I would speak to the pediatrician. My daughter has been caring for her bathing and personal needs since she was close to 3 years old. Of course with supervision until old enough to bathe alone, but I cannot fathom a 6 year old who will go in his pants with no problem. If he is going back and forth from bio to you perhaps he is having issues and not talking about them. I really think this is a medical issue.

Best of luck to you.

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The dirty pants is a curious one, it is so difficult to know what they are thinking itsnt it ? I would wonder what is going on at his mum's house, though. Maybe he has had a horrible incident involving this sort of accident and for some reason he feels he can't put on clean pants.

Maybe the inconsistancy is confusing him, going to and fro to different households, and living situations. Perhaps if you could say to him "In this house, we do......"

Yelling and raised voices, exhausting for you, and very negative environment for the home. I have faced all these issues....and read every parenting book in the world (slight exaggeration !) and the best thing to do is this !

Making statements works well for me. "I would like you to have a shower now", or "It is time to go to bed". Remove any sort of emotion to the request, dont get upset, dont yell, dont show your frustration. If the request is ignored, then consequences come in. If you stick to this plan, I think you will find a lot more cooperation.

Now, my children are older, I often negotiate with them. So if its shower time, my son might say, "how about I finish this chapter and then I will have a shower". I am happy with this, and he feels like he has some control over what he does.

Perhaps you could read some parenting books, they give your wonderful ideas on how to manage things, and you start enjoying your children more.

All the best.


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I dont know if it is "normal" persay,because I think all children all ages are different.
I do have a relative child in my life that is the EXACT same way,to the point that it is scary how much they are alike in what you described.He is also 6,turning seven in a few months.
He is a complete mess too. face always has chocolate or something sticky on it.Always wiping hands on walls or other surfaces and leaving stains. Constantly spilling stuff on carpet. squeezing out the whole tube of toothpaste just to brush his teeth. urinating ALL over the toilet seat and on the floor.Getting covered in mud from outside and then tracking it all in the house on the floors..dragging out every single toy and not putting it back.
this kid spends alot of time at my house,so I feel your pain! I,too,am also the kind of person who really wants my house clean and tidy looking,so it tries my patience as well.
What i do when this child is at my house,is basicly stay on top of him constantly,and practically follow him around.
In the summer,I make him eat outside on the patio table instead of in the house.
My husband is the one who makes him clean up his urine after using the bathroom. I think if you keep making him clean it up he will get tired of doing it even if he doesnt think it is gross.
Popi,as always has great advice about him possibly being confused because he is allowed to do it at his mom's. So definitely reinforce that in your house things are different then at mom's.
Maybe the boy will grow out of it,but many boys are like this their whole lives.they just like getting dirty.

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I've read this a couple of times and tried to remember my son at 6-7 (he's 21 now), and he was a LOT like this. So here is some of what we did at that age.

1. Yelling...of course yelling gets his attention, negative attention is better than no attention. Make an effort to stop yelling. Focus on positive. I know it's hard when there is a mess, but the yelling is not helping you or him.

2. A GOOD MANNERS chart. Kids that age LOVE stickers and rewards. Make the rewards obtainable at first, harder in the months to follow. DO NOT take the rewards away for bad behavior, but reward good behavior. Showered today...Gold star. Washed hands after going to bathroom, gold star. Washed hands before meal, gold star. 10-20-30 gold stars = some kind of reward (candy bar, hot wheels car, something like that).

3. Okay this one may sound gross, but may be necessary. LET HIM GO TO THE BATHROOM WITH DAD. Let him see that Dad holds "it" while peeing, and know that Boys hold their penis when they pee, so they can aim. Heck, make it a game, like you did when potty training them, hit the cheerios. Dad can even tell him the secrete....shake 3 times, less won't do it, more is playing with yourself (my son thought that was SOOOO funny when Dad told him that).

4. Concentrate on ONE good manner a month, sit down with a plan and write it on the calendar so you remember. March is "using utinsils properly month", etc. Boys don't have good small motor skills, it takes time to learn how to use a fork, it really doesn't surprise me about the rice being all over...okay maybe to the extent he does, but not totally.

5. I'm assuming the poop in his pants is the "hershey squirts" or "skid Marks", but could be wrong. Boys don't care about them, and will wear them again. They seriously don't least some. Mine just didn't care. Not until he hit about 17 (yes 17).

6. Fingernail biting is his reaction to stress, let him have that bad habit without bugging him. Many adults have it. It's something he can control, so let him. You may be surprised that if you back off that one, he actually stops it himself.

He is still young, boys mature slowly in that area..yes it does tend to be a boy thing. Praise the good, TRY to ignore the bad, it's amazing how they respond to praise, wanting to get that more than they want to get yelled at.


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One more voice for the 'something medical' chorus. To a certain extent, all of these behaviors are normal for little boys, but it sounds like this child's behaviors go well outside the normal limits. I'm going to guess that this little boy is also on the clumsy side overall and has trouble getting himself organized. And does he have speech articulation problems? I'd urge you to search out a 'Developmental Pediatrician' rather than just an ordinary pediatrician, because the Dev Peds are MUCH more familiar with the various problems of this nature than the regular ones are.

I'd also like to suggest you look up something called 'Disorder of Sensory Integration' or 'Sensory Integration Disorder' -- The more usual form is for children to be OVER-sensitive to things like dirt, textures or messes, but it can also apply where children are UNDER-sensitive to things. My son had a pretty severe case, and at that age, had symptoms pretty similar to what you're describing. (My son also has a whole lot else going on.)

I also totally agree with the whole 'disapproval' thing -- most kids that age are SO eager to please, so I'd suggest looking for ANYTHING he does right and praising it. Of if this boy is holding his fork wrong, but another child is holding it right, compliment the other child without correcting the 6 year old and see if that works.

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Wonderful advice, as usual, Vicky.

About your point no. 3.....I am reminded of putting a ping pong ball in the toilet, and boys "aim" at that, to get their aim going well. Seems like a good idea to me. LOL


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Thank you for all your good advices. We tried the cheerio thing and he had fun. It was not that he 'cannot' do it, it looks like he just did not care enough to do it.

Thank sweeby for your suggestion. Yes, this boy also has speech problem, also some self-esteem and bad temper problems. He is already 6 and still would suddenly go off in the public because of some small issues. Like one day we were leaving for dinner, I wanted to tie his shoes but he insisted he would do it by himself, so I left him alone. He suddenly went crazy in front of many guests, screaming, crying, and stomping on the floor, scaring our guests off because he could not tie it. Or last year he was so excited about going to YMCA for the summer, talking about it everyday and then suddenly he would cry and scream, refusing to go in. He even get scared returning to the same school classroom after a long vacation...

I would definitely look into the 'Sensory Integration Disorder' thing. For a long time we refuse to accept he has any disorders because we don't want him to end up taking drugs everyday, but after observing for a couple of years and the little improvements from him, perhaps we would look for help through a professional. Thank you all for your wonderful advices.

The Biomom took him to speech theropy when he was about 4-5 before his kindergarten started (he was a late starter due to his after August birthday). The theropist said he had no problems understanding and his speech ability was normal but closer to the lower end.

I am definitely creating a good manner chart for him. I hope by repeating the good actions would one day become his habit.

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I did a little research on the Sensory Integration Dysfunction, and found a check list for the behavior:

-- Loves to spin, swing and jump -this will seem to calm them down after several minutes.
-- Complains of how clothing feels, does not like tags left in their clothing and have to have their socks on just so, or a certain kind of sock.
-- Picky eaters -get stuck on one certain food and is basically impossible to get them to eat anything else.
-- Oversensitivity to smells. Or undersensitivity -may sniff people, objects, food.
-- Oversensitivity to sounds -will frequently cover ears. Or undersensivity.
-- May have an exceptionally high pain tolerance
-- May tire easily
-- Unusually high or low activity level
-- Resists new situations
-- Problems with muscle tone, coordination, motor planning
-- Can be very impulsive or distractible.
-- Persistently walks on toes to avoid sensory input from the bottom of the feet. This can also be a sign of cerebral palsy if the child is unable to bring their feet down flat when asked or trying
-- Appears clumsy, trips easily, has poor balance.
-- Lacks variety in play activities.
-- Does not move around or explore the environment.
-- Disorganized and lacks purpose in his or her activity.
-- Hears what you say but the brain does not process it so the child understands or it takes several minutes for what you have said to "click" with the child
-- Delayed language development

From what my husband and myself's observation, our son does have almost ALL of the checklist. We proposed it to his BioMom, she sees him so perfectly that she said he has only the last 2 problems! My husband and I decide to take him for professional analysis anyway.

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I'm glad you looked into this - and not surprised that so much of it fits... After a while, moms with special children can spot 'em a mile off.

Definitely go for the 'Developmental Pediatrician' rather than the regular one. And pre-screen by phone to find one you 'click' with - talk to the nurse - since the wait for an initial appointment can be very long.

If you need help finding someone, call your city's "early Intervention" or "Birth to Three" program (a government-mandated program to identify children with disabilities. Or call your local school and ask to speak to the Speech Therapist there. Or find a parents group for autism -- not that he's autistic -- it's just a given that children who ARE autistic have sensory integration issues.

Many parents live in denial. Or, they don't have anything to compare their children against, so they really don't see it.

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