Summer is just around the corner, which means playgrounds, bike rides, pool time, trips to the beach, and a whole lot of related whining about sunscreen application. It’s unlikely that your kids are ever going to love getting slathered with the stuff — after all, it delays their fun. But if you go in with a plan, you might be able to make the whole process a little more bearable for everyone.
Get ‘em when they can’t escape
One of the best times to lather up a toddler is when they’re strapped into the carseat or stroller. They can wriggle and complain all they want, but they’re not getting away from it. As an added bonus, if you apply the sunscreen before you leave for your destination, it allows a little extra time for it to absorb into their skin before they’re out in the sun.
Do a countdown
Especially when you’re applying lotion on the face, kids really want to know when the torture is going to end. Have them count down (or up) with you from 15 so they can feel the progress. You might also pick a favourite song you can sing together once or twice while you apply the sunscreen; once the song is done, they’re ready for some sunshine.
Use a big makeup brush
Tiktokker @maddiecastellano uses a large makeup brush to apply sunscreen easily and evenly to her toddler’s face. This could be an especially good method for kids who like the sensory feeling of the brush against their skin — and then they can take a turn using the brush to apply sunscreen to their arms or legs.
Make a game of it
One parent told Parents.com that silly faces are the key with her daughter: “I ask my daughter to make a pufferfish face,” Lyla Gleason says. “It usually entertains her long enough for me to apply and smooth out the sunscreen.”
That’s pretty good, but I’m going to take it one step further: Tell them you’ll “pop” the pufferfish cheeks when you’re done (by gently squeezing them); imagine their anticipation.
Let them help
Kids hate sunscreen but they love to be helpful, so try finding a way to get them involved in the process. A couple of members of our Offspring Facebook Parenting Group have found methods of “helping” that work with their kids. “I always let them do their own arms or belly while I do the rest,” Melissa says. “Then I redo what they did to ensure proper coverage. But it gets them to sit still, and they feel helpful and involved.”
Similarly, Nikki uses what I will now refer to as The Dot Method: “I put ‘dots’ on my daughter and then let her help rub them in. She is neutral on sunscreen but huge into painting and drawing on herself, and this scratches that itch, I guess.”
Make it a part of the routine
Group member Lauren says she has made sunscreen application part of the overall “getting-ready-to-go-outside” process.
“Before we play outside, everyone has to get sunscreen on, so it’s no more of an argument than wearing shoes (which with toddlers is not to say never, but you get the idea),” Lauren says. “When they say, ‘But I don’t want to…’ I cheerfully respond, ‘Oh! Then I guess we aren’t going to play outside, since we need sunscreen to play outside. Bummer! I really wanted to play outside.’ I’m sure the day will come when a real standoff will ensue, but so far, my 3.5- and 1.5-year-olds have been surprisingly amenable to the logic.”
You should also plan to coincide reapplication with natural breaks in play, such as for snacks, lunchtime, or to use the bathroom. That way, you’re not pulling them away from their fun, and the sunscreen has a few extra minutes to soak in before they’re back in the sun.
This post was originally published in 2019. It was updated on May 10, 2021 with additional tips and for current Lifehacker style.