Development FAQ: 18-24 months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

How do I persuade my 20-month-old son to wear sunscreen and a hat?

I have a problem that I want to solve before we go off to Spain in July. Last summer when it was hot and sunny I managed to apply sunscreen to my little boy and also found a hat that stayed on. He was, however, only 9/10 months at the time and very easygoing. This year it is a different story as he is 20 months with a mind of his own.

Last week we were preparing to go to the park, but he refused to wear his sunhat. As it was warm, I started to apply sunscreen to his arms and legs, but he wriggled away and I doubt I got much on. I have tried to explain to Greg why he needs these things, but he won’t listen. Here, the sun is not yet at its full strength, but I am worrying about Spain. It won’t be much of a holiday if we have a daily battle before heading to the beach or pool.

Toddlers of Greg’s age don’t understand the reasons for wearing a hat and sunscreen. But Greg is old enough to understand the simple rule, “No hat, no outing.” You must begin to teach him that when it is sunny and you say he must wear a hat and sunscreen, then he must. If he won’t cooperate, you may have to miss a few outings to the park, but he will learn that there is a consequence to not doing as you ask. If all goes well, by the time you get to Spain he will accept that putting on a hat and sunscreen is a normal part of getting ready to go out.

It may help if you let him assist with rubbing in sunscreen and deciding where the next bit should go. Make a silly game out of it and let him choose whether you start with his legs or his arms. Also let him watch as you apply sunscreen to yourself. You may find that spray sunscreens make the task a little easier.

Finding hats for boys is not easy. Look for one with a wide brim all round or a “Legionnaire” style with a wide peak and back flap to protect the neck; this latter style probably gives the best all round protection. Look together in mail order catalogues, where pictures of other little boys wearing hats may help. If you can, buy a second hat in a style he seems to like the look of. You can then offer him a choice when going out. The exposure of a young child’s skin to the sun does pose a risk, even in the UK. Wearing a hat and sunscreen should, therefore, become part of your son’s daily routine in the summer. Remember also to stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, reapply sunscreen frequently, make sure that Greg’s fluid intake is kept up and, when on the beach or by the pool, keep most of his skin covered with loose shorts and t-shirts, or choose clothing specially designed to offer UV protection.