Seattle's Child

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kids and body odor

Ask the Pediatrician: Why does my kid suddenly stink?

Also: How to identify and deal with microaggressions.

While it may feel that time has stopped during the pandemic, some things are still moving forward. During all of this “togetherness,” you may have noticed new things about your children: They are taller, they can now make toast on their own, and yes — some are getting stinky. The world has been turned upside down during the pandemic, but puberty keeps on rolling.

In addition to kids and body odor, we’ll also discuss microaggressions: Are they a problem, and how do I help my kids understand them?

Thank you so much for your questions. Stay safe, stay strong, and remember the COVID-19 vaccine is now available for everyone ages 12 and older. (Read our previous column on that here.)

kids and body odor

Kids and body odor: Why is my child stinky? What’s going on?

First of all, puberty is absolutely, perfectly normal, but it can catch us by surprise. It is helpful to remember that while everyone is different, girls often begin to go through puberty around age 8 to 9 and boys start a year or two later. The common starting point is body odor. While no child (or parent) really wants to talk about it — let’s be real, we notice it. Here is some helpful information we can share with our kids so they can navigate the rocky world of puberty:

What causes the preteen-teenager body odor smell?
When puberty starts, hormones trigger odorless perspiration. When this perspiration comes into contact with natural bacteria that live on the skin, a reaction occurs to break down that sweat and hence, that distinctive “locker room” smell.

How can we help our kids?
Because this is something new, kids will need support, love and a few practical tips to help them navigate this murky and often embarrassing phase. Building the practice of good personal hygiene is a great place to start. Some kids love it, others don’t. When puberty starts, remind them that personal hygiene is really key. Here are some things to help kids steer through these changes:

  • Body hygiene helps! The less often kids bathe, the more bacteria there are to interact with sweat and make the stinky smell. Reminding kids to wash is a great first step.
  • Remind kids to wear clean clothing, for the same reasons. That coveted hoodie or favorite T-shirt can harbor bacteria if not washed frequently. If your kids are anything like mine, they have a favorite go-to, and sometimes I just need to sneak it into the wash.
  • Certain foods can seep through skin pores, like garlic and onions. Limiting or reducing these foods can help, and eating right makes a difference, too.
  • Encourage fluids. Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated will help clear the body of toxins and can reduce body odor.
  • Deodorant. Feel free to suggest deodorant once their body odor is noticeable. It will not harm them, and the earlier they start ingraining good hygiene habits, the better.

We may not want to talk about it, or to smell it, but preparing kids early with conversations about hygiene and body odor can soften resistance and make the chat seem less embarrassing. Try sharing a personal experience and focus on encouraging good hygiene rather than on the stink.

Kids and microaggressions

I keep hearing the term “microaggression,” but I don’t know what it is.

You may have heard the term “microaggression” and wondered what it means. You or your child may also have experienced “microaggression” and didn’t have a term to describe what you felt. Many of us have experienced microaggression or have witnessed it as a bystander.

Microaggressions target a particular group (by gender, ethnicity, race, physical ability,  immigration status, etc.). It can be in the form of a “joke” directed toward you that singles you out based on the group you are in or as a “compliment” that leaves you feeling confused, hurt or bad.

Microaggressions are the subtle yet hurtful comments and behaviors that leave you uncomfortable, stung and unsure how to respond. They are insidious because they are often disguised as “funny” or “compliments.” In addition to making you feel bad, they can leave you wondering if the problem is yourself: Are you too sensitive, did they really mean it, etc.

Over time, accumulated microaggressions can adversely affect self-esteem and pride, leaving a child feeling unsafe and insecure.

How can I help my child understand microaggressions?

  • Embrace diversity from an early age: I tend to view diversity through a wide lens. To me, it means the incredible differences we all have: different abilities, ages, housing status, languages, ethnicities, race, religion, orientation, gender and more. The more children are exposed to a diverse range of people, the more comfortable they will be with diversity.
  • Encourage questions: Being part of a diverse community will also lead to questions. Your children will likely ask lots of questions about the differences they notice in people around them. Questions are good. Questions also can put us parents in occasionally uncomfortable situations. When your child points out loudly that someone is in a wheelchair, it can feel uncomfortable. These can also be great learning opportunities that kids will remember. Keep an open conversation about how people have differences and similarities. Remind kids that diversity is what makes our community interesting and vibrant.
  • Intervene: If you see your kids engaged in microaggression (either as the recipient or the instigator), stop the conversation and help break down what just happened. Both the instigator and the recipient can learn from gentle but direct conversation. Listen to their experience and perspective and then ask kids how they would feel if someone said something to them. Talk about empathy and the importance of apologizing.
  • Redirect: There are some tools to help redirect microaggression. Teach kids to ask the provoker to clarify — to ask “What did you mean by that?” rather than laugh nervously and feel bad. You can even use role play to practice.
  • Be a role model: Recognize your bias and be thoughtful of not inflicting microaggressions. If you are on the receiving end of a cringeworthy, stinging comment, show kids how to redirect it by asking the instigator to clarify.

As with bullying, it takes courage to speak up. Understanding microaggressions, communicating with your kids about the behavior and modeling respect can help address the impact on kids from microaggressions.

More from Dr. Block and Kaiser Permanente in Seattle’s Child:

The COVID-19 vaccine: What parents need to know

Summer safety: Sun protection and hydration tips

kids and body odor

About the Author

Susanna Block

Dr. Susanna Block, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente in Seattle and lives with her family in Queen Anne.