A baby becomes a toddler, becomes a child, and then they’re on the verge of puberty.
…and *sniff* there’s a smell in the air and it’s not their milky breath, nor have they had an ‘accident’…
When your child gets a bit of body odour, it can catch parents on the back foot as surely their child isn’t hitting puberty already?
Here are some reassurances that, unless your child is a rare example of precocious puberty, it’s just the first of the changes that mean your baby is growing up. Lots of things influence changes in body odour, including diet, but if you’re concerned about a sudden change in sweat or smell of your family member, please consult a health professional. In very rare cases, it can indicate a health issue.
So when does your child need to start wearing deodorant?
Follow your nose and if you notice it, take charge! In general, from a really young age – 4 years or so, when kids are off to structured learning or activities such as sports – it can be noticed that some kids have a whiff of body odour. Some people would think of it as pleasant, but at the end of a long day, it may not be.
The average age the Body Odour train comes to town is around the 10 years old mark.
From a personal point of view, my son (who is on medication for Autism) started to be a bit stinky around the six-year-old mark. Apparently, it is common for kids on the spectrum who are medicated to be stinky as the medication can make them stink. But it wasn’t long after that really horrible body odour started to permeate his clothing too….
For general BO, let’s start with some basics before leaping for the deodorants or antiperspirants aisle.
Body odour comes from sweat being eaten by bacteria. When there’s more sweat, there’s more odour and when the body starts to mature (a process that starts much earlier than other outward signs such as breasts or facial hair) the sweet baby sweat and honest smelling sweat of toddlerhood changes to mature sweat and the bacteria convert it into more odiferous compounds.
That is to say – the more grown up the sweat, the more it stinks and the more quickly it gets on the nose.
Therefore, you want to help reduce that opportunity for bacteria to thrive, which means basic hygiene needs to be stepped up.
Setting some standards for family hygiene in an open, non-confrontational and supportive way really helps. Up until now, being clean and presentable has been something that you have done for and to your child; now’s the time when conscious ownership by your child can start.
Rather than making it a battleground, make up a chart of what needs to be done every day for a healthy happy body (and not-going-insane parents demanding to know if teeth have been cleaned or if those knickers are new today or how many times his socks have been worn!).
Some gentle deodourant options include:
No Pong is a popular choice for Mums who want to go gentle first up
Here are some basic guidelines:
1. Check How Well They are Washing Themselves
Use gentle soaps and cleansers in the shower or bath to avoid dry irritated skin, and “bubble bath UTIs”.
I found that normal soap wasn’t cutting it so I now I buy an anti-bacterial body wash for him which has made a huge difference in conjunction with his deodorant (when he wears it)! Not only that, but sometimes kids just don’t wash as well as they should, so I now occasionally do the ‘sniff test’…. That is smelling his pits to ensure he has washed. This keeps him on his toes and ensures he is washing everything that he should be!
Different soaps and body washes work differently on different people, so try a few different sorts and see which works for your child. The Dettol brand worked well for our family.
2. Hair that Smells Like Cheese is NOT Okay!
Grotty, lanky, matted hair, perhaps with the smell of wet dogs from being washed and left to dry untended, is not going to improve things. Or if they leave it too long between washes I tell them ‘Their Hair Smells Like Cheese’. Negotiate with your child about haircuts, hair care and dressing it each day all you like, but start with clean hair!
Have a regular routine for hair washing. We use Sunday night as a night to wash hair and get nails trimmed and ears cleaned out – then I remind the boys a few times during the week if they have been doing loads of sport and have been especially sweaty.
3. Wash Uniforms or Outfits Daily
Once kids get to that certain age, you can’t really get more than a day’s worth of wear out of them, unless you want the smell of body odour to permeate their uniform, never to be stink-free again! If you add a half a cup of vinegar to every wash, it stops the smell from embedding into the fabric.
If the smell is already right in there – read our article on ‘How to Remove Body Odour from Clothing.
Washing them as soon as you possibly can after wear makes a huge difference so if you can get them used to throwing their uniforms in the washing machine when they get home (and change into some outdoor clothing or similar). Yes I know that washing so often is a real pain, even placing them in a bucket of water with some vinegar until you can wash them will help.
4. Check that hats, shoes and bags aren’t the source of the sweaty smells.
You may have to wash or replace these more often for sweaty bodies. Shoes, in particular, can s-t-i-n-k and may need airing, drying or sanitising. Sprinkle bicarbonate soda in the shoe then stuff with newspaper and pop in the freezer for 24 hours. Shake out the bicarb and you’re good to go!
If you don’t have expensive runners, placing them in a bag and popping them in the washing machine on a gentle cycle will get them washed perfectly. Hang them out by the laces in the sunshine for a few days afterwards.
5. Consider changing to natural fibres for as many clothes, shoes, linen and accessories as possible.
Some claim to have bacteria-fighting abilities, such as bamboo or aloe vera-impregnated cotton. These fabrics, however, tend to be expensive.
6. Work on All Other Aspects of Body Hygiene
Are they regularly brushing their teeth (with toothpaste), are they putting on deodorant regularly, are they washing behind their ears.
Having noticed a change in your child’s smell might be a good time to start talking about body changes and puberty. It can be a good segue into a potentially awkward topic.
There are natural, gentle alternatives to body sprays and strong antiperspirants. Coconut oil, bicarbonate soda with essential oils, crystals, sprays made from hydrosols and herbal waters are on the market. Some parents embrace the idea of their child learning to use these products rather than buying into.
For middle-school or older children, wearing deodorant is a right of passage. Owning the right one may play a part in their position in the school hierarchy (stranger things have happened) so don’t dismiss this if your child raises the issue with you. The currency of the schoolyard is variable and quaint but helping your child to navigate it and to negotiate with you around this issue is also a part of growing up. Check what the school policy is about the use of aerosol or highly-scented deodorants and antiperspirants, and set and maintain strong boundaries about their uses at home, particularly if anyone in the family may react to them – asthmatics, migraine sufferers, younger children or the elderly.
Be prepared for you to feel emotions about this – grief, excitement, frustration and many other shades of emotions come with watching our children grow up. Some milestones of parenting are huge and easily measured but others, like the gentle transition of child into teenage, can catch you by surprise.
When did you know that it was time for your kid to wear deodorant? How did you manage it? What do you use and are you happy for your child to follow in your footsteps?