Training My Toddlers to Wear Sunscreen


Remember that song, based on a graduation speech, that started with: “If I could give you one tip for the future, it would be wear sunscreen.”

I may have taken that a little too much to heart, especially when it comes to my kids. I’m probably a little obsessive about this, but my kids don’t go outside to play without sunscreen on. Now that it’s nice enough for them to go outside at their Mother’s Day Out program, I’m pretty sure I’m the only mom to hand the teachers sunscreen. I’m that mom, and that’s OK.

Here’s the thing… I have two beautiful blonde-hair, blue-eyed toddlers with skin even fairer than mine. And I’d love them to make it to adulthood without half the freckles that tell the story of my own childhood’s lack of sunscreen.

Toddler on beach in sunglasses
My two-year-old daughter wearing her sunglasses and sunscreen at the beach.

As a child, I only wore sunscreen when we were headed to the beach or amusement park for the day. Softball games in full sun? Nope. Full days running around the yard barefoot or riding bikes? Nope. I don’t remember ever re-applying sunscreen mid-day, but I do remember many miserable days with painful bright red patches.

When I was in high school, we went to Orlando for spring break. I got a sunburn the day we went to the beach. Four months later, I still had the funky bathing suit tan lines from that at my sister’s wedding in August. It wasn’t even a bad sunburn compared to many I had growing up.

Even now, in my 30s, when I go outside on a partly sunny day for more than 10 minutes, I barely look at the sun and my cheeks look like I applied a bit too much blush. My burns tend to fade into a tan after a week or so, but I’d prefer to always be pale than to put my skin through that — both to skip the pain and skip the skin damage.

I wasn’t even half as aware back then of skin cancer, let alone personal friends with skin cancer survivors. But now that I am painfully (no pun intended) aware, I take measures to protect myself daily. I’m paranoid every time a new freckle or spot appears, and really, there’s nothing I can do about the damage done to my skin by my adolescent ignorance.

What I CAN do is be super vigilant about protecting my children’s skin from sun damage.

Everybody in this family wears sunscreen

Any time we’re outside longer than passing through, I use SPF 50 broad spectrum sunscreen on their face and limbs. One of the worst sunburns I had as a adult was at a winter football game, so this applies all year.

I carry a stick of sunscreen in my purse, just in case we get stuck unexpectedly outside. There’s also sunscreen in their book bags, the diaper bag, the back of my car, our garage, etc. I’m removing the chance that it won’t be convenient, and I’ll skip it. Overall, I’m far less worried about the potential chemicals in the sunscreen than about proven damage the sun does.

This vigilance has paid off: When I apply sunscreen, my kids stay pretty chill instead of squirming. My 2.5-year-old knows mommy will take her home if she doesn’t want to wear sunscreen, so she’s pretty good about standing still for a few minutes. My son squirms a bit, but he allows me to apply it if I’m quick. He’s even willing to keep his hat on, while my daughter is all about her Minnie Mouse sunglasses. I hope they carry on these skin-health habits into their adulthood.

We just had my son’s 18-month checkup with the pediatrician, and the parting advice he gave us: He has fair skin and light hair, so don’t forget the sunscreen.

Trust me, I won’t.