Good Hygiene Habits for Boys
Heidi Katz of Los Angeles, Calif., never wanted to become the "because I said so" kind of parent. In the past few years, when her son, Max, 11, ignored her pleas for him to use good grooming skills, Katz resisted the temptation to be demanding.
"My child has always kept himself pretty clean, although I've met with certainly a lot of resistance lately," Katz says. "Take a shower. I don't want to. Cut your fingernails. I don't want to. Brush your teeth. I don't want to."
Katz found material for her son to read about good grooming habits. She took him to the store to find guy-friendly as opposed to unisex grooming products. Now he takes more frequent showers, using body wash and shampoo.
Controlling body odor is not easy, and more boys are starting to develop and become involved in sports at a younger age. Max stays active with his skateboarding, rollerblading and soccer games. "He is getting to the point now where he sweats," Katz says. "He did not used to sweat. He is starting to develop those glands and that capability."
While most parents should start noticing when their guys produce more oil and odor, it may be the teacher or school principal who first brings it to a boy's attention.
Bobbi Jasper, Ph.D., of Rockville, Md., an elementary school principal for Montgomery County Public Schools, says school administrators try to be discreet when having conversations about personal grooming. Jasper understands the issue more than most because she has two sons, Michael, 16, and Phillip, 13.
"They need to start being taught those skills at a younger age so when they get to be the age where they perspire and develop body odor as a result of the bacteria, it's second nature for them to start taking care of themselves," Jasper says. "Sometimes you have to have private conversations and explain to the young men that they really need to start thinking about the effect their decision is having on people around them. For instance, they come in from physical education or from recess. Even a fourth-grader or third-grader will have the need to use deodorant or an antibacterial soap. Teachers have to get close to these kids. Other kids have to get close to these kids. Sometimes it's a skill that needs to be taught or explained. It's not going to come naturally because very often we don't smell quite as offensive to ourselves as we do to others."
Having a Talk
When it comes time to have a talk about hygiene, Jasper says it's best if parents have already modeled good grooming skills in the home. "If you don't model that, how do you expect the kids to do it?" she says.
Jasper suggests pulling the child aside to talk about the matter privately when the two of you are involved in an activity other than just talking. "The best time to talk to boys is not a face-to-face conversation – it's when they are doing something and you are doing something, and you are having a 'don't look at me in the eye' conversation," she says. "If you are cooking and they are cleaning up, when they don't look at you directly, we know it's a more effective conversation with boys."
Finally, give boys options you can live with. If you're going to give them options or choices, don't give them a choice you are going to say no to, she advises. "If you don't want them to have a choice, give them two options, either one you can live with," she says. "'Well, honey, you are at that age now, do you want to use deodorant A or deodorant B or which soap do you want to use?' Give them a little control, but give them choices you can live with because if you give them an option and you don't respect them, you really reduce your credibility to garbage."
Grooming Products for Boys
Some boys are reluctant to use deodorant, shampoo or some soap products, simply because they have a feminine scent.
Kathy Peel, of Dallas, Texas, the author of 17 books including Family For Life (McGraw Hill, 2003) and The Family Manager Takes Charge (Penguin, 2003), helped launch the OT (OverTime) personal grooming products for boys sold at Target and Meijer stores.
Peel, a parenting and family management expert, has raised three boys who are now grown. "This is such an awkward time in a boy's life because his body is growing very, very fast," Peel says. "Some can grow up to five inches a year. And they are growing up and out and they feel awkward, and it usually falls to Mom to teach them good grooming and good hygiene habits."
Peel says The Procter & Gamble Company spent two years researching and developing the line of grooming products for boys. They found boys like to smell the same all over their body. "The No. 1 concern of boys ages 9 to 16 is their appearance," she says. "Until now, the options have been either sister's strawberry banana shampoo or sister's deodorant or dad's. It made it harder because they did not have any products of their own."
School and Self-esteem
"When my boys were in school, they took health in the sixth grade and learned some hygiene tips," Peel says. "Now, they teach it in the fourth grade. Boys are going through puberty earlier; they are starting to play sports earlier ... and they are smelling earlier. Sometimes boys 9 or 10 don't even want to shower every day. That's the first key – to get them in the habit of showering every day."
Peel tries to stress the fact that teaching a young boy good grooming and hygiene is about a lot more than body odor and looking good. "When a boy feels good about how he looks and how he smells, if he is not worried about that, he can pay more attention in class and do better in school because he is not thinking they are snickering because he does not smell good," she says.
A boy who feels good about the way he looks and smells will have higher self-esteem. As a parent, it's possible to prevent embarrassing moments in a boy's life – such as a popular girl holding her nose as he enters the room – by teaching him early on the importance of good hygiene.