The sunscreen war; it’s real. My kids love to spend time in the sun, in the pool and on the boat, but they have a hatred for sunscreen that makes them become tiny little Houdinis able to slip away undetected without an ounce of sunscreen on their bodies. Why they hate it, I don’t know. No, I know. They hate sunscreen because it means spending approximately 2 minutes staring at the water or the boat before they are able to enjoy it while sunscreen is applied to their bodies. They’re antsy and impatient and the act of applying sunscreen is equivalent to shackling them to a wall and cutting off their toes one by one (in their opinions, of course).
Being Floridians, sunscreen is especially important. Even if we are only in the car for a half hour, my kids will burn right through the core if I forget to apply sunscreen and forget to close to covers to the vista sunroofs. The sun here is brutal. A mere 20 minutes in the pool or just the time it takes to get the boat in the water and pull away from the dock is all it takes to burn. So sunscreen is non-negotiable. Fortunately, our kids are getting older and more acceptable. The twins, however, are just now starting to realize that they can move from our grasp and get away. We are about to start the process of the sunscreen wars all over again, and I have some very creative tricks and tips that might help you get your kids lathered up. Because telling them they will die of skin cancer or burn and peel and itch and get sick is not good enough for them.
The Cheeto Bribe
Not going to lie here; my kids love Cheetos. The only time we let them have Cheetos, though, is on the boat. This is a great way to get them to do what they’re told (like not have a throw down tantrum when they realize it’s time to put on their life vests as if they have EVER been allowed within 30 feet of the boat without them). We are so not above using Cheetos to get our kids to obey the sunscreen law. My husband will stand behind me with the bag of Cheetos and a stupid grin and wave them around like a maniac while the kids glare at me and him while standing still long enough for me to apply sunscreen to their bodies and faces. They’re not happy, but they do it. It’s a win for everyone.
The Minor White Lie
Minor, major; whatever. My kids once made me lie to them on the boat. I had to tell them that I’d miss them a lot and I really wished that they’d wear sunscreen. With narrowed eyes and thinly veiled suspicion they asked me what I meant by, “I’ll miss you,” when I said it. “Well,” I replied with a sad sigh, “Ursula, you know, the sea witch from Ariel? She sends her eels after people that don’t wear sunscreen because they’re not protected from them. She can’t see you if you wear sunscreen,” I said with a shrug. I began applying my own sunscreen and suddenly everyone wanted it. I win.
Mr. Elf is Watching
My creative kids named our Elf on the Shelf Mr. Elf a few years ago (don’t hate) and we lie about him on a regular basis. I don’t care that it’s the middle of June. When my kids want to get in the pool without sunscreen, I remind them that Mr. Elf is watching. When they hear his name, they tend to shape up. The one time they didn’t listen and I actually had to hold them down to apply sunscreen, Mr. Elf made an appearance via text message. My husband took a photo of him on the pool deck with the sunscreen and text it to me, I showed the girls and they were horrified that he knew they weren’t listening. They’re still scared that he might remember to tell Santa. We’ve assured them that Mr. Elf is very forgiving of kids that make the right choices, so he probably won’t mention it.
Hi, Dr. H, it’s Addy and Ava’s Mom
When our kids aren’t into the healthy aspect of life, we just call the doctor. We work hard to ensure that we cannot get them to listen any other way, but we always call the doctor. We have to be very careful of this one, however, because we do not want them scared of the doctor, but we do want them scared not to follow general health guidelines. There was a time when our 4-year-old decided she no longer wanted to wear sunscreen because it “smells like the beach,” (this is a real problem in her life). After several failed attempts to persuade her otherwise, we pulled out the big guns.
“All right, but you do know you have to have sunscreen and if you won’t let me put it on you right now, I’m going to have to call the doctor and he’s going to have to give you the sunscreen shot,” that elicited a reaction. She did not believe me. So I ‘called’ the doctor and made an appointment, discussing with them that the shot would probably hurt a lot and that by the time we got home from the doctor’s office that it might rain and be too late to get into the pool. She let me put sunscreen on her right then and there.
And of course, there is the tried and true method; we once lost the sunscreen on the boat. We’d already applied it once, but someone (I won’t name any names to protect my evil child) threw it off the boat and admitted it later when we couldn’t find it. We’d already been out for a few hours and we’d let time slip by forgetting to reapply. When we realized what time it was and went to reapply and realized the sunscreen was gone, it was too late. The girls were burnt to a crisp by the time we made it home (us, too) and they hurt. We hurt – more because looking at them made us feel awful – and they peeled badly. But…they’ll never do that again. We didn’t intend for them to burn like they did, but that accident sure did lead to a newfound respect for sunscreen by our kids.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images