25 answers

How Do I Tell a Parent Their Child Smells?

I am a teacher of 4 and 5 year olds. For a little more than a month, my assistant and I have noticed that one of the students has a strong body odor. Even sometimes in the early morning, when she first come in, it's like the child has not had a bath. I don't expect her to take a bath every single day, but on some days the odor is unbearable and very strong. I have a conference with the parent this week. The other children are really beginning to notice and sometimes don't want to be around the child. How can I say something without offending the parent?

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

I had to reschedule the first conference and had it this week. I did address my concerns to the parent. I gently told her of the problem and it turns out she already knew and it was a matter of bad personal hygiene along with stubbornness. M. told me she has to fight the child on some nights to take a bath. She was aware of the smell and said she and dad would sit down with the child and address my concerns. Wipes were also sent to school to help with the hygiene issue. I spoke to the child privately on this. In the last few days, things have been getting better. Thanks for your help.

Featured Answers

If someone had to tell me that about my child, I would not be offended I would be absolutely mortified. How embarrassing for the parent but this is something they defineately need to hear for their child's sake.
I remember my boss had to have this same conversation with my coworker. Ugh!

5 moms found this helpful

I would say that you have noticed that the child has a very strong body odor and you are concerned about her. She may have an underlying medical issue that needs to be addressed--like an infection (yeast/bladder infection) or improper washing etc. Tell the parents that you hate to be this forthright, but other children have noticed and are complaining to you as well. As them to please remedy the situation and or take the child to the doctor. Best wishes!

M

5 moms found this helpful

I disagree with calling cps. Have a talk with the parents, let them know the odor is becoming apparent to the students. Not easy to hear maybe but pretty important.

4 moms found this helpful

More Answers

Tough one.
In other difficult conversations, I try to use the good-good-bad approach.
In this case, that would be something like:

"Mr and Mrs Smith, Mary is a very bright child and she is just a pleasure to have in class, between her great enthusiasm and cooperative attitude. But I've noticed that she is having a bit of body odor at times, and I am just bringing it to your attention because kids this age can be unintentionally mean sometimes. I would hate for her to experience any of that which might make her school experience less than 100% positive. Is there anything I can do to help with this?"

14 moms found this helpful

I heard a story recently about a little 5 y/o girl who had “hygiene issues” and missed a lot of school then found dead. Come to find out her bio-father and step mother had been physically abusing her and eventually killed her-not to be depressing but sometimes we miss obvious warning signs because we don’t want to talk about uncomfortable situations. Not saying this is the case but bring it up lightly-if you are uncomfortable you can always ask the school nurse or social worker to step in

6 moms found this helpful

You are the teacher and this child is clearly in some kind of distress. She could be in a situation of extreme poverty (no hot water to bath with or wash clothing/bedding) or her parents could be neglecting her. The house maybe a hoarding situation. Be direct, be kind, but certainly do something. If you are hesitating because you do not want to offend the parents, focus your attention on the needs of this innocent child. You may be the only advocate that she has.

5 moms found this helpful

As a supervisor of adults I've had to give this message. I've found it's best to be direct in a kind way. I'd mention the smell towards the end of the conversation after telling them the good things going on with their daughter.
I would be sure to word it as a situation that needs attention because it does affect their daughter's success with peers.

5 moms found this helpful

If someone had to tell me that about my child, I would not be offended I would be absolutely mortified. How embarrassing for the parent but this is something they defineately need to hear for their child's sake.
I remember my boss had to have this same conversation with my coworker. Ugh!

5 moms found this helpful

I would say that you have noticed that the child has a very strong body odor and you are concerned about her. She may have an underlying medical issue that needs to be addressed--like an infection (yeast/bladder infection) or improper washing etc. Tell the parents that you hate to be this forthright, but other children have noticed and are complaining to you as well. As them to please remedy the situation and or take the child to the doctor. Best wishes!

M

5 moms found this helpful

If this child is a bed wetter, she does need a bath every day. Is the smell urine or worse? If so, I suggest you don't skirt the issue and just send a note home. If there is a school nurse, perhaps she/he could contact the parents? Either way, you will be doing this child a favor in the long run.

Personally, I would be wondering if the child is being neglected in other ways, such as nutrition as well as personal hygene.

Please keep us posted.

Blessings...

5 moms found this helpful

Can you talk to the school nurse about how to approach it as a health issue? Maybe she could sit in on the conference to support you.

5 moms found this helpful

I disagree with calling cps. Have a talk with the parents, let them know the odor is becoming apparent to the students. Not easy to hear maybe but pretty important.

4 moms found this helpful

I don't think you can present it without it hitting a tender spot with the parents, especially if they really haven't noticed. Of course my obvious questions is if she is of some culture where body odor is viewed differently than our western perspective. If not, then just go there. "You know, your child is a wonderful and bright little girl. However I did want to touch on the area of hygiene. First let me say, I am not in any way trying to make assumptions here. I just want to go over some thing and see if we can come up with a solution that is going to make your child's school experience very positive. So please know at the outset, I want this to be a positive conversation. How does that sound to you?(pause for effectiveness and wait for response) 'Your daughter has on occasion come to school and had a strong odor. What concerns me is that some children have noticed and are at times avoiding your child. What are your thoughts on that?' pause and get response and go from there. Obviously this is just an idea that I hope helps. I think the key is to get the parent(s) on board that you are here to help and in no way judge. Try to ask questions and get their feedback and see if you and they can come up with a solution, like more frequent bathing or if she does get very regular baths, maybe a trip to the doctor just to be sure things are fine. Possibly she needs a bit more instruction on how to handle herself after going to the restroom. So many possibilities. If you team up with the parents, face things head on and don't come off as critical but merely a helping hand for the sake of the little girl, I think it can go well. Wish you the best, it's tough to show people an area like this, but you can do it!

4 moms found this helpful

This could be an ethnic thing also. The food from some countries, India for example, has different spices and can cause different body odors. Their sweat just smells different. I remember reading about military persons stationed away from home saying that the native people in the country they were deployed in thought Americans smelled funny or bad. What they found out was that because Amerricans traditionally eat more meat our sweat smelled foul to them, even though the person had showered before going out.

It could also be dirty clothing. Some people just don't do laundry often enough, they seem to think that because they took a bath/shower and put on clean clothes they must still clean the next day and the next and the next.

It could also be bad teeth, UTI, ect.

I would mention it to the parents casually. 'We love having Susie in class she is bright and friendly ect ect. But we have noticed that she seems to have a body odor and the kids are now noticing it. Susie is so bright and friendly I want her to be accepted and have lots of friends."

I know the kids are little but I would also suggest that you do a lesson on hygene. That different parts of the body will smell if not washed daily or every other day. You could also do a lesson on food from other places. The curry in foods from India tastes wonderful but it can cling to their clothes and make the sweat smell different -- not bad but different. Same as many other ethnic foods Chinese food uses different spices and will change body chemistry.
My daughter works at an IHOP and says she notices on some days she just smells like pancakes.

Hopefully by introducing the kids at a young age to different ideas they will learn to be more understanding of dofferent people and cultures.

4 moms found this helpful

There is no easy way to approach a parent with this. So, like pulling a bandaid, its easier to just tell them quickly. Sort of work up to it, generalize it... when I was in 5th grade, there was a boy in class that would sweat easily and then have the worst body odor. The teacher asked him to start wearing deoderant to school.

Body odor can be caused by many things. Diet. Sweating during sleep, Dirty clothes. Dirty sheets. Lack of baths. Overall household smells.
Someone that uses a lot of oil and spices in their daily cooking will have a house, clothes, and belongings that smell like their kitchen because the odors permeate throughout the house.

The easiest approach may be to write up a general letter about overall hygene for the whole class.
- Add a note about dressing kids in layers vs sweatshits, etc so that as kids get overheated or sweat, they can remove layers.
- Add a note about parents should send students to school bathed, and dressed neatly, with their hair brushed. For young students, the slightest smudge, stain or smell can become a classwide distraction.

3 moms found this helpful

I don't give my 6 y/o more than 2-3 showers a week... so if she were to smell, I'd appreciate it if it was nicely brought to my attention. Sometimes you get so used to a smell, that you cannot even tell it's still there. I know when my son (6 months old) starts to smell like spit up LOL someone tells me right away.

3 moms found this helpful

I think whether you offend the parent or not. as a teacher, when you suspect neglect (bad hygiene) for a child is as such.. don't you now have to report it? I wouldn't worry about offending the parent in as much as being the voice of reason and care for this little girl... Imagine, the heartache you might save her... Also, take note.. does the parent smell as well?? could be if the house is filthy and the person is used to it.. they are probably used to the smell....... and don't notice it... I used to work with two people who smoked ALL The time and always wore the same jackets when they did it.... and their clothes smelled so badly... but I am sure they NEVER had a clue about it since that was what they were used to..

in an event, sounds like you need to mention this... do you have a boss you can talk to or perhaps someone else in the same profession (another teacher and or principal) who can give their advice as well...

I would also add that if this was my child, I would want to know about it.. granted, my son is well cared for but even so... if something wasn't right at school, then I want to hear about it.. good or bad... If it means making my son's life better, then bring it on...

good luck

3 moms found this helpful

My first thought would be to have a private conversation with the parent, that you are concerned because you sometimes notice an odor, perhaps there could be a medical issue, etc.? Come from a place of concern, how can you help, etc. It's a way to bring attention to it without accusing them of not bathing the child regularly :) Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful

I appreciate your desire to be sensitive, and I have no doubt that you will be, but please don't be overly concerned about how they will take it.
Some things are HARD to hear, but are necessary. They will probably be offended, but this is an issue that needs to be addressed for the child's well being and dignity.

You are right to want to address it and I hope the parents put aside any offense to recognize that you are speaking out of concern for the child's dignity, as other kids are beginning to notice.

I hope it goes well! Hygiene is a touchy subject, but your words may change this child's life for the better.

3 moms found this helpful

All of the below are great responses.
Have you talked to your principal/supervisor as to other suggestions? You may want to give them a heads up in case the parents are over-reactive or if there are more serious issues involved.

1 mom found this helpful

I know my daughter started having BO way earlier than I thought she should, I also know my BF noticed the odor before I did. I thought he was crazy, then I smelled it and bought her deoderant the next day. Maybe say something to suggest they might need to start using deoderant, that kids seem to be needing it earlier now... I would definately let them know that both adults and some of the kids are starting to notice and that it is going to start affecting the child's social life. If you are afraid to do it at the conference, send an e-mail, this definately needs to be addressed asap.

1 mom found this helpful

There is no way to say something to the parent without offending them if this happens to be something that they are sensitive about. It is what it is though. What matters is the well-being of the child, hopefully the parent will see that and take better care of the child.
I had to tell an acquaintance that her little girls did not smell so fresh. (It was due to a lack of hygiene.) She was hurt and cried, but after that she was sure to keep up their bathing. I hated to hurt her feelings, but I was more concerned about the care of the children.

1 mom found this helpful

Complement the child. Parents will then be all ears and be more able to respect your sensitive approach to the rest.

Bear in mind, it could be something the child/parents have no control over.
I grew up with a girl in grade school with a colostomy bag. None of us
knew at the time, but we did avoid her. I learned to regret not being more
of a friend to her.

Good luck. Hope to be enlightened by your "What Happened" if you can
share. You may be the golden ticket to this girl's future social acceptance.

Present it in a way that shows concern for the child and their social interactions. Something that lets them know you are working with the other children to play with everyone or to include everyone, but there is a small problem with this and you "need their help."

I actually know that my child smells. He is five years old and smells like a teen aged boy! We bathe him and some times put deodorant on him. My husband does that I would rather figure out what is causing him to smell like this than put adult deodorant. We have tried putting hydrogen peroxide and baby powder which help alot but what is causing it is the answer I am looking for. I would tell them the other kids arent playing with him and saying he stinks. Then tell him you started to notice it also after the kids told you. Even in the mornings. Have a solution to the problem too. Its easy for someone to tell you the problem but it becomes so much more helpful if you can point them in the direction of fixing it.

On the other hand if its not just his arm pits stinking and its his entire body and hair. They might be like some close family members we have and not bathe! Or get in the shower but not use soap. We have had many discussions about this problem and find that they belive in natural body oils and keeping them. They are missing that while your body does produce oils it also traps dirt and oil and needs to be cleaned once in a while to help keep your body healthy. That is an entirely different thing. If that is the case suggest some natural body lotions , or oils to put in the bath water after they use soap. Three times a week min to help wash away the old oil and allow the new oils to do a good job. I understand people can become very confussed on how your body works. See above where I dont know what to do about my kids smelly pits!!! Even after soap is scrubbed into the pits??

Ask administration on how to go about this or talk with your school counselor. If it is child neglect, then it needs to be reported to CPS.

thats touchy. do you see the parents? are they put together (bathed and such). if they are i would make a call to cps because thats unhealthy for the child.

there is a little boy at the school i work at that does not get bathed more then maybe 1 time a week. the parents are very poor looking. the principal has had a meeting with them too.

Tell the teacher that the other children are treating him badly because of it. I kept my son's cat in his bedroom with the litter box. He came home one day sad because the kids said he smelled like a litter box. I moved the cat and litter box to the spare room. My son is in his last year of college now but I still feel the sting of that.

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