Written by Doctor G

How to avoid having the stinky kid.

Q: Hello, Dr. Gilboa, I would love to hear your thoughts about how to encourage proper hygiene habits specifically with toilet use during the hours my son is at school. (i.e. not wiping carefully, etc.) What advice can you give us? Thanks.

From Dorit and Haim in Pittsburgh, PA

A: Hygiene. Ugh. This is a struggle that surprises most parents in the elementary and often the middle school years. Your question is very straightforward and pretty easily fixed. Lots of families struggle with bigger (and hairier and stinkier) hygiene problems, we’ll get to those in a minute.

What does your son need? Skills, tools and motivation.

Skill? Wiping your own butt? Yes. If this was easy, like clapping, kids would learn to do it alone in the first year of life. So don’t assume he knows how to do this but isn’t bothering to do it. This will take some parent-child bathroom bonding time. Sounds less than awesome, I know, but that is what you should do this weekend.

Tools. Remember school toilet paper? About as substantial as cobwebs and as comfortable as a cactus stalk. If this is part of the problem for your son, get him the big kid flushable wipes sold for this very reason and give him a couple in a sandwich bag in his pocket each morning.

Motivation. This depends on the child. Some kids can handle a quick discussion about E. Coli (poop germs) and illness, but this is pretty abstract.
************************************************************************************ Interesting digression: There was a big study in Africa some years ago. Aid workers taught kids in a village that if they washed after toileting and also before eating, they would not get sick as often. In the next village they explained that these behaviors would protect the kids’ younger brothers and sisters from illness. In the second village hand-washing rates improved dramatically compared to the first. ************************************************************************************
Anyway. Some kids will be motivated by smelling the underwear they wore after not wiping well, and want to learn how to avoid being a stinky kid. The importance of how we are perceived by others begins at about first grade. You may choose to tie this behavior to some type of (non-food) reward in the short term. For some kids you rely on the trust-me-it’s-important reasoning. This one is (sadly) the weakest in effectiveness, so consider what motivates your child.

For those of you who read this whole thing looking for help with your older child’s hygiene issues, here it is. Skills, tools, and motivation. Make sure that your child knows how to do the grooming necessary, and has the tools to do it. Maybe not seven brands of each styling or grooming product, but one that works for them.

Finding the motivation is the hardest part. Teach your child the important (but often overlooked in health class) lesson: our brains know how to ignore our own scent, the better to focus on other smells in our environment. And while this may protect us from saber tooth tigers, it doesn’t really help with that even more fearsome foe – snarky kids on the playground.

There is a balance to be found between attention to personal grooming and the nearly inevitable narcissism that is further down the road. For most elementary schoolers and tweens, if you tie the often annoying (to them) need for better personal hygiene to the eagerly (again for them) anticipated “growing up” you may have more luck. Otherwise… noseclips.

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