Practical Dad

Does My Kid Need Deodorant Already?

When people discuss puberty, it might come across as almost an overnight event - girls have their first period and develop breasts while boys have two days of cracked voices and then spend the next two years in the bathroom.  But the reality is that puberty is a lengthy process that comes on gradually and lasts for years.  While it generally starts full bore in the early teens, there is no definitive time that it begins for any particular person and some will begin much earlier while a few start at an older age.  However, one of the common precursors to puberty is the onset of body odor and that should serve as notice as your child's body is starting the road to Puberty.

Children can sweat when they're very little, but body odor is a result of activation and increase in the sweat glands as the child's body chemistry starts to morph.  You might finally note a discernible body odor after active play or at the end of the day and if it is, then it's likely that your child is near time for a deodorant.  If you want to verify whether there's actual body odor, simply take a quick sniff of the dirty shirts in the laundry; it might sound rude but that's all part of parenthood.  It isn't necessary to sniff their pits and not the least bit helpful to make smartmouth remarks about it; kids are exquisitely concerned with their social status and anything that indicates that they'll be unpopular or the potential butt of jokes is more frightening than a Wes Craven film.

If you think that body odor is now going to become an issue, then there are several things to consider.

  • Is your child unaware of it and regardless, how do you wish to broach the issue?  Kids can fear anything that threatens their social status and when you discuss it, play up the fact that this is all part of the process of changing from child to adult.  You can also reassure them that there are things that can be done to manage things so that it isn't an issue.
  • If there are other concerns, such as a very early onset of odor, certainly contact your family physician and schedule a checkup.  While it's not common, there are occasionally other circumstances that are the catalyst for body odor.
  • Can the issue be addressed simply by more thorough bathing or have you moved into the realm of products that mask or control the odor?
  • If your child is going to need a personal hygiene product, do you want it to be an antiperspirant or a deodorant?  The two aren't the same as each approaches the issue of body odor from a different perspective.  An antiperspirant actually contains chemicals in the formulary that serve to block the pores through which sweat comes so that if there is no sweating, there isn't any odor.  A deodorant serves to control the odor by having antiseptic compounds in the formulary that kill the bacteria that can cause the odor; a deodorant doesn't actually block the pores.
  • A child's body can have the same allergic reaction to an unfamiliar deodorant or antiperspirant as a new food for an infant or toddler.  Be aware of complaints about itching or pain after it's first used and consider taking some looks for visible skin changes at or around the areas being treated.  Start the process first by using a product that doesn't have any fragrance, whether it's a mass market product that's unscented or a product that is touted as natural or organic.  If there are no problems and your child wants it - and you allow it - then you can move on to the scented products. 
  • If your child is using a scented product, expect to have to educate the kid about the appropriate amount of deodorant to use.  Kids typically have no calibration for anything and things are either all or none, so your house is liable to smell like Axe until things are brought under control.  In our case, my wife entered our house through the front door and immediately walked out same door because of the reek of Axe deodorant wafting from Middle's bedroom.  Our son decided to treat all of his clothing by spraying his drawers and closet with the Axe body spray and it took days for his room to clear the smell.

Dealing with body odor is like any other bodily function issue.  It's neither gross nor is it a magical precursor to be celebrated as a marker to adulthood.  But it is an early indicator that your child is developing and a clue to start looking for other signs of pubescence. 

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