7 Fun Ways to Get Your Kids to Wear Sunscreen

Little boy in a hat on the beach getting sunscreen put on his face.

MarKord / Adobe Stock

Let's be honest—trying to apply sunscreen to a squirmy toddler is about as much fun as bathing an angry cat. It needs to be done, but the dramatic escape attempt makes it nearly impossible! Whether it's their inability to stay still or their reluctance to put on a strange, creamy substance, many kids run for the hills as soon as you break out the SPF bottle.

So, how do you reign them in long enough to ensure they're fully protected? Try having fun with it! Much like the creative ways you get them to eat vegetables or clean up their toys, making sunscreen time fun can relieve stress and prevent a struggle.

Here are a few fun ways to get your little ones slathered up and ready for the sun.

FDA and AAP Sunscreen Recommendations

  • For infants younger than 6 months old, sunscreen is not recommended. They should be kept out of the sun between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM or wear protective clothing (hats, long sleeves, etc.).
  • Children 6 months and older should wear enough sunscreen to cover the entire face and body, including the ears, nose, lips, hands, top of the feet, and back of the neck.
  • Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going outdoors.
  • Reapply at least every 2 hours, or after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to 30 (up to 50).
  • Remember that sunburn can occur even on cloudy days, as 80% of the sun's UV rays can get through the clouds.

Dress-up Fun 

All you need is a bottle of sunscreen lotion and a lot of imagination! Have your child pick a character to dress up as and use sunscreen to draw all of the features. Draw whiskers for cats, spots for a cheetah, or a necklace for a princess. Get creative! You can draw glasses, shoelaces, flowers, shapes—anything to get them giggling and having fun.

Once you've drawn your masterpiece, have them rub it in themselves (with a little help from you if needed) and fill in any spots you missed. It might take a little longer than usual (so give yourself some extra time before heading outside), but it's a great way to show that being safe can be fun.

Make It Musical

Everything is more fun with music! Take the song "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes," for example—you can change the words to the body parts you're applying sunscreen to ("face, shoulders, neck and back"). You can also choose one or two nursery rhymes and sing along as you apply. This can help children realize that the process only takes a few minutes, and once the songs are over, they're all done!

Beat The Clock

Set a timer on your phone (2-3 minutes) and see if you can get the sunscreen on before it goes off. You can even add a little reward at the end! (A sticker, letting them choose a snack, etc.) Whether you race the clock or each other, this method is enjoyable for kids and a time-saver for you.

Finger Painting

You can't go wrong with an art project! Have the kiddos use their fingers to draw pictures on you or themselves using sunscreen. (This is also a great option for siblings to draw on each other!) Stand in front of a mirror to make sure they don't miss any spots, and have them check to make sure you're fully covered, too.

Use a Sunscreen Stick

Sunscreen sticks are a great way for kids to apply sunscreen themselves. There's no messy cream, and it's easy for them to glide it along all of the important spots. Have them apply it to your face first, as you point out all of the vital spots to apply it—your nose, cheeks, chin, forehead, ears, etc. Do the same for the rest of your body and then have them copy the process on themselves.

Car Wash

Grab a bottle of sunscreen spray and tell the kids to buckle up! As you spray, they can pretend they're driving a car through the car wash. Have them imagine they're steering the wheel, "reversing" by walking backwards, and honking when they're done!

Create a Routine

Making sunscreen part of your outdoor routine can help your child get used to the process. Maybe they have a snack, drink some water, put on sunscreen, and head outside. You can even add a song that signals it's time for the sunscreen routine. Whatever it is, keep it consistent! Routines provide a sense of predictability for children, which can help them feel more comfortable.

Final Tips

Here are a few more tips to help your little one stay safe in the sun:

  • Let them pick out different sun accessories like sunglasses and hats (and maybe decorate them, too!)
  • Teach them the reasons sun safety is so important (it can hurt their skin, eyes, etc.)
  • Dress them in light, protective clothing
  • Try different types of sunscreen to figure out which works best (lotion, stick, or spray)
  • Read books or watch shows that emphasize sun safety
  • Remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water

Sunscreen time doesn't have to be a battle! By keeping it creative and fun, your child will be used to it in no time—all it takes is a little patience and imagination.

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun. Updated 2019.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Sun Safety: Information for Parents About Sunburn & Sunscreen. Updated July 2021.