“What’s that smell?” In my house full of boys, I find myself asking this question A LOT. Whether it came out of their mouth (bad breath? a burp?) or the other end (no need for explanation), my boys need reminders about hygiene habits — how a healthy hygiene routine is key to their well-being (and to my sanity!)
Seriously, have you ever eaten snot? I HAVE NOT. But I’ve seen it happen in my house. The good news is . . . nobody got sick or anything (other than me being completely grossed out). I tried to not make too big a deal of it, and eventually the habit faded away. But I’m making a big deal about other things — especially as my boys start to get older. How are you teaching boys personal hygiene? Here’s how I’m tackling it:
We all get it sometimes. And there are times when my boys, even at a very young age, get it, too. We tackle it here with reminders about how to brush teeth — for how long, how to get all sides of the teeth, and making sure that rinsing finishes off the process. (Note: I have lost hope that any of my boys will ever actually put the cap back on the toothpaste, so I’ll settle for knowing they got the rest of the process done right!). Sometimes, I put an hourglass timer in the bathroom so the boys know they have to keep brushing until it runs out of sand. Other times, I sing a silly song and they have to brush for the duration of it. And of course, we see the dentist for regular checkups twice a year.
If brushing alone doesn’t tackle the bad breath, I make sure the boys are hydrated — sometimes dry mouth seems to breed stinky breath. Sometimes, the boys need to use the tongue scraper the dentist gave them, and that works wonders. And beyond that, a little mouthwash rinse every now and then seems to do the trick.
It happens! I’m always telling my boys that “everyone’s body grows differently,” and I’m glad I do. It was good for me to have that in the back of my mind when I first encountered body odor in one of my boys. It happened at a younger age than I expected it — Some bodies get smelly earlier than others do! I’ve had friends ask me when their boys should start wearing deodorant. My answer is always, “whenever they start to get stinky!” Once the odor started occurring here, I took three steps to tackle it:
- I explained to my son that he was a little stinky, and that it was completely normal. I’m pretty sure he didn’t care about the odor, but I know he will someday, and I wanted to put him at ease so he knew that there was nothing strange or wrong going on.
- I explained that deodorant is a good part of a daily routine to prevent or combat the odor. AND that it’s totally normal to wear it.
- I picked out what I think is an easy “starter deodorant” — one that wouldn’t suddenly have my baby smelling like a man on a date all spritzed with cologne (oh my goodness, are those years coming soon?), but one that would be more subtle while still getting the job done. We tried and were happy with this Arm & Hammer deodorant.
- I also explained — though possibly to closed ears — that deodorant is not the main solution. Rather, making sure we get thoroughly clean in the shower is. See below for more on that.
I seriously didn’t know feet could smell so bad. Or that the smell could emanate like it is always shown in cartoons. But my boys have proven the stench to me.
Serious watch-out times include summer days in sneakers, especially if the kid refused to wear socks. Or after sports practice. Or simply after playing hard. Or getting sweaty feet in footie pajamas.
I have a very strong sense of smell, so I literally can’t bear to sit next to my boys when their feet are in stinky mode.
Rather than force a shower every time, I sometimes have the boys sit on the ledge of the bathtub with their feet in the tub, and just SCRUB their feet. It is of course thrilling to them if they actually see dirt seep into the water and swirl around the bathtub . . . . but hopefully it’s also rewarding to get the “Wow, you smell so fresh and clean now!” cheer from me afterwards. [Note, after playing outside barefoot today, one son had to scrub his feet in the tub. When I said “Go ahead -here’s a washcloth. Now scrub scrub scrub,” he replied, “I can’t. I’m holding my buttcheek.” (BOYS!)]
As a preventative measure, I also sometimes sprinkle a little bit of baking soda into their shoes. Hey, if it can work in the refrigerator, why not in a sneaker?
Washing everything that needs to be washed
“THIS is how you wash your butt!” Yes, I actually had to say those words once. After a super-sweaty, hot and sticky summer day, when the boys came out of the shower still a bit smelly, I figured out it was their bummies that smelled. I asked them to go wash again. They refused. So I had to step in: I stood them in the tub, gave each of them a fresh, clean washcloth, and showed them exactly how to get clean. “Ewwww, IN the CRACK?” they asked, half chuckling and half horrified. Yes. Get in between those cheeks, boys. It’s a must do.
When the boys were younger, it was obviously easier to make sure they were getting clean everywhere they needed to since I was the one washing them in the bath. I tried to teach a routine even during bathtime — start from the top of your body, and work down. But once they started taking showers, I of course don’t see their every move behind the curtain. They’d love a Wizard of Oz situation — “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” — but they don’t always get that. Sometimes I bombard them with the inevitable questions — “Did you scrub your armpits? Did you wash behind your man parts?” and other times I simply do an unnoticed smell check while I’m giving them a sweet Mommy hug.
What else? Let’s hear from a pediatrician and fellow M.O.B.
Our amazing pediatrician and fellow M.O.B., Dr. Karalyn Kinsella, took the time to add her thoughts on how to teach boys hygiene. She started with a warning — since her boys are 14 and 16, which is older than mine: “Things get even smellier!” Say it isn’t so!
The good news is that she agreed with all of the above tips . . .and had some great additional perspective to add:
Bad Breath: If it fails to improve with all the tips above, check with your dentist as there may be a dental issue such as an abscess or gum disease. If that is not the case, another cause of bad breath (halitosis) could be Gastroesphogeal Reflux, (otherwise know as heartburn), sinusitis or tonsillitis
Body odor: Yep, all bodies grow and develop differently. But if body odor occurs prior to age 6, be sure to let the doctor know, because it could be a sign of an underlying issue. Also, many families ask if it’s OK to use antiperspirant as it contains aluminum. If you’re concerned, then using just deodorant is fine, but once adolescence hits, the boys will likely need the combination. At this time, she’s not aware of any direct study that has looked into effects of aluminum in antiperspirants on boys.
Stinky feet: As your child grows, if sweaty feet, hands and underarms become unmanageable, there are some medical options for treatment so be sure to ask your doctor. On a mom/M.O.B. note, she has a great mom-hack — have a bench in the garage for the real stinky shoes, and put dryer sheets in them!
Even this accomplished, put-together pediatrician’s boys — and most boys, according to her! — need daily reminders about hygiene. No magical solutions there! But, she assures, once they are teenagers and start to care about dating, it FINALLY kicks in . . . (sort of!).
In the end, it of course also helps if you can be a good role model for the boys. Don’t sentence them to scrub-time when they’re stinky if you won’t do the same for yourself!
And remember to be supportive. The last thing you want is for your son to feel bad about his body in any way.
How are you teaching your boys hygiene?