Home Motherhood How to Put Sunscreen on a Toddler

How to Put Sunscreen on a Toddler

by krismkoch

I don’t know about you, but one of my least favorite parts of parenting is applying sunscreen. In fact, my best friend, who is a mom of two, once said that she hates summer because of the sunscreen, wet clothes, changing in and out etc etc, and I only now understand. Applying sunscreen to a baby is terrifying, especially once they move. Putting sunscreen on a toddler is infuriating. Whenever I try to put sunscreen on James, he runs away, squirms, moves, throws a tantrum, and often all of the above. Not only is it frustrating but it makes it really hard to make sure you have every possible spot covered and worse, that you don’t get any in your child’s mouth or eyes and risk an even bigger tantrum, scarring them for life so that from then on, they’ll really never want sunscreen, and of course, risking hurting their eyes or whatever happens when you ingest sunscreen. I’ve been struggling with putting sunscreen on a toddler all summer, and I finally, took to my mom circle, internet and parenting books to find out if there are any magical tricks. So the bad news is that no one has a magic cure, and according to another mom friend, this is going to last for the next 7-14 years at the least. So there’s that. The good news is there are some tricks to make it a little less of a shitshow.

Don’t Let Them Out of the House Without Sunscreen

I find that once James is outside, he wants to go run into the pool, lake/ocean or play. He does NOT want to be stopped for a sunscreen application and it makes it even harder and inevitably causes a tantrum. Plus, you’re really supposed to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside. I’m not going to lie. I don’t have our shit together enough to always do that, but I try my best. And I make it non-negotiable. You want to go outside and play or go to the pool? You have to put on sunscreen.

Do It Before Getting Dressed

Usually I’ll try to make sunscreen a step in getting dressed. That way, it doesn’t get all over his clothes or bathing suit instead of his body and it’s easier to rub in and not miss a spot. Plus, these days, getting dressed is such an ordeal anyway, I figure might as well get it all done together, and that helps me make sure we’re doing it 30 minutes before we get outside.

Make It a Game

Anytime you can make something a game, it seems to go better. James tends to catch on to my attempts at trickery, but he loves a sing-a-long, so I’ll make up a song to go with it and it seems to help. The same helped with teeth brushing and cleaning. You could also dot their body with sunscreen and have them try to rub them all in. Another that works is trying a glitter sunscreen. Kids like to see the sparkles and so are a little more into it.

Take Turns

Let them put sunscreen on you and then you do on them. James loves doing things himself or to me, so this sometimes will work, and helps model the type of behavior I’d like to see in him, which the parenting experts say you should do.

Bribe Them

Personally, I’m not above bribery. Sadly, James is still a little too young and impatient to really respond to bribery. Like the you can get an ice cream cone if you put on sunscreen means nothing to him — all he catches is the word ice cream and then he can’t think of anything else and is screaming for ice cream. I’m also not sure that bribing kids with sweets is a good idea. I mean listen, I’m not above anything when James is throwing a tantrum, but we tried that on the plane from San Francisco recently, and he just ended up housing the cookie we bribed him with and then getting a sugar high and being even more obnoxious than he was before. Plus, sometimes I worry about assigning values to food by using it as a reward, but again, we’re not there yet, so easy to say now, but will probably be extolling the virtues of bribing with food in a few months. But obviously, there are so many other items than sweets you could use to bribe your child — stars if they’re on a point system for things, stickers, a water balloon, bike ride, they get to pick something first, whatever.

Use a Sunscreen Stick for the Face

This is life-changing. It is so hard to apply cream sunscreen and not get into an eye or mouth but also get it close enough to both to still protect their skin. James squirms so much, I end up not putting on enough because I don’t want to get it in his eye. (I did once, and I felt so incredibly awful — I know how much it stings, and he was crying and rubbing his eye, and I just felt like such a mom failure.) The stick is so much easier to apply and he is intrigued by it and it’s quicker to apply. I still always make sure he has a big wide-brim UV protecting hat on as well, because we are a pasty bunch and honestly, I’m terrified of skin cancer and sun damage, but because sand, water, etc. all reflect, it’s key to really do a good job getting the face covered and then reapplying it. If you’re looking for a great non-toxic stick sunscreen, I really like this one and this one

Use UV Protective Clothing

I am a huge fan of rashguards and other UV protective clothing. It’s an extra layer of protection and makes up for if you miss a spot or if you don’t reapply exactly every two hours (as recommended) or if they’re swimming or in sprinklers etc. If you come from a pasty genes like our little one, you really can’t have enough sun protection, so I definitely recommend it. I love these rashguards, this sun hat, and this one too, and this UV suit set.

If All Else Fails, Strap Them In

Obviously, they’re not going to like this (unless maybe you let them watch something they love on the iPad/iPhone), but I”m just gonna throw this out there, because if you have to take them outside and they’re just not being cooperative, put it on once they’re strapped in their carseat or high chair. Honestly, I find that’s one of the easiest ways to apply sunscreen to the face. It’s hard for the rest of the body because it’s hard to get to all the parts, like the back, but it’s great for the face and neck and ears, and for feet, legs, and hands. Just watch out for the slaps and kicks that inevitably will come when they realize they’ve been strapped down with the sole purpose of applying sunscreen.


What about you? Any tricks you have for applying sunscreen to a crazy toddler?


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