Sunscreen Wars: 5 Tricks That Will End the Battle

After years of doing it, putting sunscreen on my three kids is still a battle. Every. Single. Day. Each morning as I grab the bottle of SPF, I’m greeted with whining, drama, and a chorus of eews and yucks.

My sons are 9 and my daughter almost 8, so by this time I expected to be far beyond the hassles of sunscreen. I expected not to be doling out daily lectures on skin cancer and other sun-related maladies. I expected these sun-lovin’ punks to get with the program and start lubing themselves up without a word of complaint.

It’s not happening … and unfortunately my husband is no help. He’s Southern Italian on both sides of his family and therefore graced with dark olive, Mediterranean skin. He thinks getting a certain amount of sun exposure is “healthy,” while I’m glared at and accused of making everyone look greasy. I often hear: “Daddy does sunscreen better.”

I’m vastly outnumbered and I fear within a few years my kids won’t wear sunscreen at all if I don’t stay on top of them. One study showed only 50 percent of young kids used sunscreen regularly and that same group dwindled down to 25 percent as they got slightly older.

However, I refuse to thrown in the towel. When the going gets tough, the mom gets tougher, right? Instead, I recently began looking for ways to validate my pro-sunscreen stance to my family and make the process of putting on sunscreen more appealing to my kids. Here’s how…

Do your research. I first determined the amount and strength of sunscreen my kids actually needed. It always helps to have science on your side, especially when arguing with kids. Most experts say an SPF of 30 is sufficient, protecting you from around 95 percent of harmful rays. I still like to go a bit higher, so I typically buy 50+.

Get specific. I recently read that adults should use a shot glass amount to cover their entire body. For smaller kids, two teaspoons will suffice. Now, I can actually give my kids a definitive amount to apply rather than resorting to the vague “Do your arms and neck” routine. Regardless of what my children feel, there’s no such thing as too much sunscreen and experts heartily agree.


Make things personal. Children love kid-friendly packaging, so it stands to reason they will find sun lotion more appealing if it’s in a fun container. You can make or order personalized bottles with your child’s name or a favorite image or character. I like these small travel bottles which are actually wedding favors (don’t tell my kids!)

Enlist back-up help. How do you inspire your children to be diligent about sun safety when you’re not around? Whether my kids are at school or summer camp, I can’t be there to hound them about reapplying… so I get them to hound each other. I have various methods, one of which involves giving my daughter their after-school snack money and telling her she cannot give it to her brothers unless they put sunscreen on. She is the most diligent and therefore my best bet in terms of getting them to reapply. You can also enlist the help of teachers, coaches, and other parents who are around when you’re not. It takes a village, people…

When all else fails, reward bribe them.  I haven’t resorted to rewards (yet). I want my kids to use sunscreen because it’s healthy and necessary, not because they get a prize at the end of the week. They need to understand it’s an essential part of taking care of their bodies — and if I’m parenting them properly, they should make the choice on their own to use it. That said, some fun beach stickers or another themed reward might not be a bad way to incentivize younger kids to do something they view as an everyday hassle.

I realize I’m looking at the world through rose-colored sunglasses, but I expect my kids to embrace the world of sunscreen with open, SPF-protected arms. Teaching children to care for their bodies is important for any parent, and sunscreen is one of the easier pieces of the puzzle.  It’s not overly difficult or cumbersome, like say, flossing.  Which is my next battle.  Bring it on!

Photo: Getty