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Sharp Health News

Preteen hygiene — it’s (not always) the pits

Oct. 8, 2019

Preteen hygiene — it’s (not always) the pits
While children ages 10 to 12 — known as tweens or preteens — may begin to show physical signs of puberty, they might not be mentally prepared for all that’s to come. This includes mood swings, social challenges and feeling self-conscious about everything from growth spurts to new, not-so-fresh odors. The latter of which is why it’s important for parents to help guide them to some healthy new hygiene habits.

According to Dr. Maria Gray, a board-certified pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, hygiene is a good topic to talk about when your kids start learning in school about the changes related to puberty, which is typically at 9 or 10 years old.

“It’s good to talk about cleanliness and try to tie it into talking about the typical changes during puberty, such as body hair and, with that, body odor,” Dr. Gray says. “You can try to talk about hygiene in the context of staying healthy.”

Her colleague Dr. Resham Batra, also a Sharp Rees-Stealy board-certified pediatrician, agrees. “I tell the kids that it's their body and they need to take care of it by keeping it clean, because that will also help to prevent infection.”

“Another way to motivate them is to talk about the social norms of cleanliness and odor reduction,” says Dr. Gray. “Basically, you can appeal to their desire to not smell around their friends.”

Encourage healthy tween hygiene habits
Dr. Batra encourages parents to remind their children, especially those who are very active, that they need to bathe daily, as well as change underwear and underclothes daily. Sweating and not wearing clean clothes can trap odors and bacteria. Deodorant and antiperspirant may also be needed for kids who sweat excessively.

Along with bathing, you should talk to your tweens about other good daily habits to maintain, such as:

  • Grooming — Regularly wash and brush hair, and trim fingernails and toenails.
  • Dental care — Brush teeth at least twice per day, and floss teeth once a day.
  • Hand washing — Wash hands before and after using the restroom, before preparing food and eating, and after sneezing, coughing, blowing their nose or playing with pets.
When it comes to hair growth, both Drs. Batra and Gray agree that shaving underarm hair when it starts to cause odor is recommended, if the child wishes to shave it off. However, it’s best to wait as long as possible when it comes to shaving the legs and pubic area.

Dr. Batra recommends that you encourage your children to wait to shave until they are more mature at handling these practices safely on their own. “Medically speaking, it is not necessary to shave,” she says. “It is generally for cosmetic purposes.”

According to Dr. Gray, trimming the bikini area when kids reach the teen years is acceptable. Some teens may also choose to wax their pubic hair, rather than shaving, which can cause ingrown hairs and irritation.

Talk to your preteen’s doctor if you have concerns about their personal hygiene or would like help broaching the topic with them. While kids may not initially be receptive to the conversation or new habits, good personal hygiene can help them stay healthy and avoid some of the social challenges that might come with puberty.

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