Although some preschoolers insist on trying to do everything for themselves, others are happy to let you do things for them. If your child is content to let you comb her hair or put toothpaste on her toothbrush, now is probably a good time to give her some lessons in how to take care of herself and encourage her to practice doing those tasks by herself. While part of your role is to be nurturing and supportive, another part is to help your preschooler develop the skills other children her age are mastering. It may take your child time to learn to do these self-care tasks, so you might not want to tackle them all at once. Instead, pick one task for her to learn to do well and then move on to another one. Here are some basic ones to start with first.

Tooth Brushing

Set a time, or several times, during the day when your child will brush her teeth—say, right after breakfast, after lunch or when she gets home from preschool, and before going to bed at night. If she has usable vision, give her a toothbrush that stands out clearly—by color—from other family members’ brushes. If your child doesn’t see color, select a toothbrush for her that feels different from that of other family members, whether by size or shape.

  • Some children find it easier to learn to put toothpaste on their brush by using a pump toothpaste dispenser rather than a tube. If getting the toothpaste on the brush is a challenge, even after you’ve used hand-under-hand or hand-over-hand technique to show her how, suggest that she put toothpaste on her finger, wipe her finger across her teeth, and then start brushing.
  • Remind her to put her toothbrush and toothpaste back in the same place each time she uses them so she always knows where to find them.


As with tooth brushing, having a scheduled time for your child to take a bath or shower will help her anticipate when it’s bath time and what to expect. As your child gets older, you can start showing her how to take responsibility for different parts of the routine.

  • Tell and demonstrate, using hand-under-hand technique, how you adjust the water temperature—turning on the cold water first, then adding hot water until the water is comfortably warm.
  • Give your child a washcloth or sponge with soap on it and show her, using the hand-over-hand or hand-under-hand approach, how to wash her face and upper body. To be sure that she doesn’t miss any parts, encourage her to focus on one area, then overlap the area she’s just washed as part of moving on to the next. Describe these activities as she does them. And remind her to keep her eyes closed so that soap doesn’t get in them.

As your preschooler gets familiar with these tasks, you can let her take on more of the routine such as putting soap on the washcloth and rinsing and drying herself. Once your child is clean and dry, she needs clean clothes to put on. Encourage her to get in the habit of bringing fresh clothes or pajamas to the bathroom before she gets into the tub or shower—and putting her dirty clothes in the hamper.

Hair Washing

Some children find hair washing a difficult task to do, so it may take more time and effort for your preschooler to learn. Again, try using the hand-over-hand or hand-under-hand technique to help her get familiar with the basic steps.

  • Use a plastic cup or a similar container to pour water to wet her hair.
  • Pour a small amount of shampoo into her hand.
  • Guide her hand to her head and help her rub the shampoo into her hair, using both hands.
  • Show her how to fill the plastic cup with fresh water to rinse the suds out of her hair. Let her know that she’ll have to do that a few times before the suds are gone.

Brushing and Combing Hair

Brushing or combing hair is a self-care task that most children can master during their preschool years. Keep the things your child will need in one place. A girl may have a comb and brush, barrettes, hair bands, and other decorative items that can be kept in small containers, baskets, or boxes. Preschool-age boys probably have just a comb and brush.

When teaching your child how to comb or brush her hair, work from behind her, using hand-under-hand or hand-over-hand. She’ll probably need a lot of practice before she’s able to do any sort of styling on her own. But even if you have to fix or neaten her hair, give your child a chance to do it herself first. Talk to her about how you’re fixing her hair and how other children wear theirs so she learns what styles like ponytails, braids, and bangs mean.