Sunscreen :: A Necessary Evil


In my younger years, I spent my summers as a camp counselor. The campers loved playing games at the waterfront, and everyone’s favorite was Greasy Watermelon. Imagine a game of football in the water where you and your teammates are trying to pass the ball and get it across your goal line. The only difference is your football has been replaced by a large watermelon that has been coated with Crisco. Needless to say, that was a slippery little sucker! Little did I know, all those games of Greasy Watermelon were preparing me for my greatest challenge as a mother: putting sunscreen on my children.

It’s no secret that applying sunscreen is the most important thing you can do for your children in the summer. Not only does it protect them in the present, but it creates an essential habit for the future. And while I can’t deny the importance of sun protection, I don’t have to pretend that putting on sunscreen is easy. It constantly makes me question my parenting skills.

Three summers ago, I was at my breaking point, so I did a little crowd sourcing on Facebook. I’m so glad I shared my struggle because I received some sage wisdom. Today, I’m sharing that advice in hopes that your summer will be a little easier.

Tip 1: Make It a Habit from Birth

The first piece of Facebook advice came from a friend who has two girls. She shared that she made putting on lotion a nightly ritual. Since her girls were babies, she has rubbed them down with lavender lotion to help them sleep, so putting on sunscreen was no big deal. They were totally used to it.

Unfortunately, by the time I received this advice, the boys were already 10 months and 3 years old, so we missed that critical window, but for anyone just starting down the road of parenthood, this may be a good path to follow.   

Tip 2: Utilize the Power of the Car Seat

Another friend recommended putting on sunscreen once the child is buckled in his car seat. I can understand this probably works better with boys since the body parts touching the car seat are usually covered by swim shirts and trunks anyway, but it comes in handy for faces of any shape or size.

The best part of this strategy is it completely eliminates the biggest hurdle to sunscreen application: the child’s ability to run away. I have used this approach with great success before heading to the pool. I let the boys pick their favorite tunes to listen to and then turn up the volume to drown out any screaming (theirs and mine!) that might occur.

Tip 3: Bribe Them

I know bribing children isn’t always the best advice, and some of the top parenting gurus would balk at this idea. In that case, I invite them to join our annual family beach trip and take over sunscreen duty.

Ultimately, you have to put your pride to the side, assess your priorities, and ask yourself, “Does my child have on sunscreen?” If so, count it a win. Use anything that appeals to the child for the bribe—candy, a small toy, or screen time. Think about it, you’re supposed to let sunscreen sink in for 20 minutes before heading outside anyway, and that’s just the right amount of time to catch an episode of Paw Patrol.

Tip 4: Get Them Involved

While this tip didn’t come from Facebook, it is one I have seen work beautifully with my very own eyes. I spent last weekend at the beach with several other families, and I watched in amazement as a 3-year-old calmly and meticulously applied his own sunscreen.

He sat on the floor in the kitchen rubbing it in exactly where his mom told him to without any wiggling or tears. When I complimented him on his sunscreen skills, he beamed with pride. I felt like I was truly watching the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime,” come to life. Plus, anything that makes a child feel like a “big kid” is sure to produce good results.

Tip 5: Let Your Significant Other Do It

Out of all of the Facebook advice I received, this has been the tip that works the best for us. It came from another mom of two boys, so I knew she felt my pain. For the past three years, my husband has been in charge of all sunscreen application, and the boys let him do it without any hesitation.

They love using “Daddy’s sunscreen,” a bottle Mommy isn’t allowed to use. I don’t even mind getting left out of the boys’ club for this because at least they have on sunscreen. I did worry this practice might lead to problems when Daddy isn’t with us, but as long as I’m using “Daddy’s sunscreen,” they don’t fight me like they used to.

Now, if Coppertone ever stops making sunscreen in the pink bottle, we could be in trouble, but maybe by then, some scientist will have created a pill that coats from the inside out.

Have you tried any of these tips? Did they work? What is your tried and true method for applying sunscreen?


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Originally from Rock Hill, Katherine now lives with her husband of eight years and their two boys in Columbia, where they are anxiously awaiting the arrival of boy number 3 in September. As a high school English teacher for the past 17 years, Katherine encourages her students to be life-long learners, modeling this concept herself by earning degrees in English, mass communications, literacy, and floral design. When she’s not in the classroom, Katherine enjoys cooking new recipes for her family, exercising with friends, reading a wide variety of books, writing her blog Laughs at Funerals, and trying to convince the men in her life to cheer for the Tigers instead of the Gamecocks.


  1. These tips would have really helped 10 years ago!! To all you new moms….heed this advice!! Avoiding sunscreen application sometimes keeps us from even going outside!


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