Does your kid run away or freak out when it’s time to put on sunscreen? Grab these 8 quick tips that can help your child to tolerate sunscreen without any tears. Save your sanity this summer!
It’s that time of year… sunscreen. On the daily for a lot of kids. While most kids would rather skip this necessary task that slows down their play, some kids down right hate getting sunscreen put on. And may even have a meltdown.
You don’t want them to get a painful sunburn or worse in years ahead from skipping sunscreen, so what are you supposed to do?
Why Some Kids Hate to Wear Sunscreen…
Well, first you have to figure out what’s going on that’s causing your child to avoid or run away from sunscreen. There are two possibilities:
1. They’re too busy – if your child hates being interrupted and just wants to go about their play, then the tantrum is likely a result of having to stop what they’re doing and get sunscreen on. The first 4 tips below will help nip this busyness in the bud so they’ll willingly get their sunscreen on before dashing outside.
2. They’re sensitive to touching different textures – some kids don’t like getting messy. Some kids squirm, cry, and have a total meltdown when they have to touch different textures. This is not their fault, and while it’s something that can get better, it’s not something they can will themselves to tolerate.
Because their brain is sending a message that the sunscreen feels like worms crawling all over them, or that it’s actually painful. Yikes! This is called tactile defensiveness.
Oh no, is my kid tactile defensive??
Tactile defensiveness can be improved significantly, if not totally. A first step in helping your child is understanding that the feeling of sunscreen is truly difficult for you child. Then, you can help them learn how to tolerate the sunscreen step by step with the tips below!
Tips 4-7 will be very important if your child is sensitive to the texture of sunscreen.
Of course, you child could have a combo of tactile defensiveness and not wanting to stop what they’re doing, in which case each of the tips below could be a helpful tool in saving you and your child a lot of upset this summer.
8 Quick Tips for Kids that Hate to Get Sunscreen Put On
As you read through these tips, keep in mind that you don’t need to do them all at once. Start with what feels do-able and try it consistently about 5-8 times and see if it’s helped your child. Then, if you still need more ideas, you can come back and pick some other tips to start using. To keep these sunscreen tips for kids handy, pin this post to one of your boards on Pinterest.
#1: Give a Warning
As I already mentioned, so many kids are running away from the sunscreen because they just want to hop in the pool or get in the car and be on their way to the park. But, simply telling your child BEFORE you transition that you’ll need to put on sunscreen can go a long way in helping them tolerate waiting a few minutes while they get their sunscreen on.
The same is true if your child is in the middle of playing. If possible, go to them and allow them to continue to play.
Again, you’ll want to give warnings that you’ll be applying the sunscreen in 5 minutes, 2 minutes, etc. It might help some kids to see a timer counting down. When the buzzer goes off, it’s time to get their sunscreen on.
#2: Make it Fun
Getting sunscreen put on can feel like a chore, even if your child is just standing there and you’re doing all the work! Think about how to make it fun for them. Maybe you can put silly dots of sunscreen on their arms like a cheetah and they can rub it in.
Or, maybe they pretend they’re painting themselves as you both do the sunscreen together.
They may like standing in front of a mirror and making sure you don’t miss any spots. You could challenge them to watch and make sure you don’t miss anything.
If you use a spray sunscreen, you could pretend the spray is a mist from a waterfall or a dragon’s breath!
What other ways can you think of bringing a little fun to putting sunscreen on your kid?
#3. Set a Timer/Sing a Song
It’s also helpful to set a timer for when you’ll be done putting on sunscreen. This could be as quick as 2-3 minutes. Set the timer and tell your child to watch to make sure you’re done in time.
Or, another fun way to let your child know that applying sunscreen will only take a few minutes is to sing a nursery rhyme. This is particularly helpful for younger kids who don’t have a concept of time.
Either a song or a timer can help your child know that it’s going to be over soon. And, over time, they learn when the end of the song is coming and can usually cope better with standing there and getting all slathered up.
#4. Add It to Your Routine
If you have a pool in the backyard or are outside most days, then making sunscreen a part of your routine can be a big help in decreasing the tantrums and attempts at running away.
If you don’t have any routine, you can complete one simply. Think about having your child clean up their toys, get a drink of water, and then put on their sunscreen and hat before going outside. Keep it simple and repeat it to your child often until they get used to it.
Knowing that sunscreen is one of the things they need to do everyday will become a part of life.
#5. Try Different Types of Sunscreen
If you suspect, or know, your child is sensitive to the feeling of sunscreen, then you may want to experiment with different types:
- lotion (thick or thin, scented or unscented)
Each of these have different feelings and your child may tolerate one better than another. I wish I could say thin lotion is definitely the best, but it really depends on your child since each of their sensory processing is unique.
You probably have a guess as to what they’ll respond best to, but if your child is old enough, ask them! You may be surprised at how insightful they are! Otherwise, try a couple different kinds if you’re able to. And, if you have several types on hand, you can ask your child which type they prefer on any given day – because one day the stick of sunscreen might be less irritating and the next day, it might be the spray.
And, if you’re wondering about toxin levels and the safest sunscreens to use for your child, then check out the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) sunscreen guide. It’s free, and I use it every year for my kids.
#6. Use Deep Pressure Sensory Activities BEFORE Putting On Sunscreen
Now, we’re moving into some more advanced sensory strategies to help kids that are tactile defensive or are struggling with the sensation of sunscreen. Deep pressure is a group of sensory activities that tend to be calming to the sensory system. The idea is that you use these activities BEFORE putting on sunscreen, to help calm, balance, and regulate their sensory system first.
And then, you apply the sunscreen because they’re likely to tolerate the sensation better at that point.
Here are some deep pressure activities that could be beneficial:
- Giving your child a big bear hug
- Squishing them under some pillows
- Using joint compressions
Head over to Deep Pressure Activities to get more ideas.
#7. Use a Firm Grasp and Pressure When Putting Sunscreen On
Since the feeling of the sunscreen is so uncomfortable for some kids, continuing with deep pressure input can help keep your child’s sensory system regulated WHILE you’re putting the sunscreen on.
To give your child deep pressure at the same time as applying sunscreen, use one hand to firmly hold their shoulder, wrist, or hip. Also, firmly apply the sunscreen, light touch is generally more irritating to the sensory system.
You can also have your child stand up against the wall so they can lean into it while you apply, and when you do their back, have them push the wall hard with their palms, like they’re trying to break through. This is more deep pressure, and while it might sound strange it can really help.
#8. Practice Getting Messy!
Of course, the real solution to helping your child put on sunscreen easily, if they’re sensitive to textures, is to address the root of the problem. Everything you’ve learned up until this point has been to help them compensate for their sensitivity. But, this tip is about moving past the sensitivity.
The more your child can learn to tolerate, accept, and enjoy a wide range of textures, the better they’ll put on sunscreen.
While you should never force your child to get messy, encourage them to take small steps getting messy. Maybe they can play in a sandbox with a shovel before touching the sand. Or, maybe they have to use paint brush before using their fingers to paint?
No matter how sensitive your child is, start by taking small steps, and make getting messy a regular part of your child’s life. Over time, they’ll become desensitized and wearing sunscreen won’t be a problem.
Wondering About Other Sensory “Issues” in Your Child’s Life??
If you want to learn more about other sensory red flags your child may have, grab our list of 21 Sensory Red Flags you might be missing.
Before you go, share any tips or strategies that have helped you get sunscreen on your kid in the comments below… We love hearing YOUR ideas!
More on Sensory Sensitivities
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 17 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.