It doesn't take long as a classroom teacher to learn that there are often issues with student hygiene, especially if you deal with the intermediate or middle school ages. Hey, puberty smells!
A sense of humor goes a long way when you're dealing with personal issues like this. Let's cover a few specifics.
Getting student hygiene out in the open
Here's how I open the conversation with 4th graders:
“Hey, you're 4th graders, you're nine to ten years old; you're moving into puberty and you know what? You're going to start having body odors so you need to take a shower and use deodorant.”
Just get right to the point. The kids think it's really funny. But bringing up student hygiene is like setting expectations – once is never enough.
So I remind them all the time, especially after they've been at Fitness class or out at recess and they get all sweaty:
“Hey you guys, tonight or tomorrow morning, take a shower and use deodorant.”
They'll giggle and think it's hilarious, but they'll listen and most of them will take a shower. Then find time to keep bringing up the issue a little at a time over and over again, explaining what “approaching puberty” means:
- skin getting oily
- hair getting oily
Which means that frequent washing becomes very important so they don't smell bad. As their social awareness grows, they'll remember what their favorite teacher is telling them and take action.
Just as important is to remind them about washing their clothing – especially their underwear and socks.
If you want to really make a point – and provide some necessary resources for kids who may lack them – Google “free student hygiene kits.” These are great things to hand out during your initial discussions.
Individualizing hygiene discussions
After your group discussions, you may need to follow up with individual children.
If it's a minor issue, I'll take that student aside and in a very loving way, remind them about good hygiene and that means washing frequently and getting their clothes washed. Plus some tips like not leaving their clothes on the ground where they can be walked on.
For more serious or long-term problems, you'll need to dig deeper. See below.
Video tips: addressing student hygiene
Helping disadvantaged children with hygiene
If a child has a long-term issue with hygiene, then you'll need to consider possible causes.
Some of your students may not have access to washing machines or other appliances. Some may be without running water in their homes. What can we do to help them?
In cases like this, you need to get your school counselor involved right away. There are issues that this family needs help with, and your counselor knows how to access community resources that can provide assistance.
Finding clothes – and acceptance – for kids
I've often been able to help with shoes, backpacks, coats and other clothing items by accessing charitable organizations. And, as many teachers have done, I've purchased plenty of items myself over time. I'm not saying this is a solution for you, but sometimes your heart will move you to throw in an extra pair of shoes at the store because you can't stand to see little Randy go another day with his toes hanging out in the winter.
That just comes with teaching.
Whatever happens, we want to avoid having kids become objects of ridicule in the classroom. We want them to feel comfortable and normal like anybody else. So never let issues of student hygiene go because you are embarrassed to bring it up. Dive in and get involved because your kids are worth it.
Click here to learn everything a teacher needs to know about recognizing and supporting homeless students.