Yes, You've Got To Teach Your Kids How To Wash Themselves

Puberty will make your kid stink. Full stop.

Written by Holly Garcia
Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock, Amazon
Teens & Tweens

Bath time was so much fun when my kids were younger. There were bubbles galore and fruity, fresh scents. It was also pretty low-stakes. Bathing was more about having a routine, winding down at night and getting rogue marker marks off their faces. It wasn’t really about making sure they didn’t stink. But all that’s changed now. Because bless these tweens, but their puberty funk is strong… and hella smelly.

Puberty brings new hormones and countless physical changes for kids. But while even they know they need to do something about it, there’s a pretty good chance they’re clueless about WHAT to do. Yes, I’m looking at you, child who thinks half a bottle of Axe body spray and/or Bath and Body Work’s finest is a substitute for a proper personal hygiene habit.

At the same time, they’re bombarded with messages about skincare, and they all seem to be begging for retinol creams. But ask them to do the basics (like reminding them to scrub all their areas), and it’s like you’re speaking Greek. It’s wild that some of these Sephora tweens have more steps in their skincare routine than I do, but at the same time, the concept of deodorant seems to be totally foreign.

But hey, that’s why we’re here! As parents, we teach our kids how to take care of their bodies so they can feel confident. And so we don’t have to choke on the sweaty stench they bring home from soccer practice.

The Basics

Puberty is embarrassing and everybody experiences it differently, at their own pace. That means every kid is troubleshooting their own, unique challenges. So take time to talk with them about what personal hygiene includes, but also hold space for any questions they might have.

Maybe other kids in your child’s class have started shaving; does that mean they should? Or maybe there are conversations happening during health class (or at the lunch table) that they’d like some clarification on. The point is, as awkward as these conversations can be for us (yes, I’m having flashbacks to my tweenage years), they’re just as cringy for the kids. Like when I finally had a talk with my mom about how to trim and properly wash... down there. Was I mortified? Absolutely. But it totally outweighed risking smelling and being mocked by the other girls in the locker room. I mean, what I read in Cosmo told me waxing was an option, but as a young girl, I didn’t really know what that process would look like or what I should do.

Remember, too, that kids can be just plain mean. The level of attitude you get from your tween at home is one thing, but get a bunch of them together in a gossipy mood, and they might say some harsh remarks about other kid's unique pheromones. We can’t control the mean things other kids say, but we can help our kids practice good personal hygiene to avoid that mess altogether.

And if you hear your kid talking about how someone else smells, or how weird it is for that one girl to let her pits go unshaven, take a moment to remind them to be kind. They’re all learning how to not be an asshole, and sometimes they trip up. So take the time to remind them that it’s not their job to judge or police other kids’ hygiene habits, but they are responsible for their words and should consider how they might be making someone else feel.

Daily washing

Remember a few years ago when celebrities shared shocking secrets about their showering habits? Well, when it comes to your tween's shower schedule, making it a daily thing is crucial. When they were small, the rules were different. You had to wash them if they rolled around in the sand at the beach or tracked in mud after a wrestling match, and a day spent mess-free wasn’t enough to justify dunking them in the tub. But since puberty came in like a wrecking ball, all that’s changed. Sorry kid — it’s not you, it’s your hormones. If I can smell you coming in the front door, hit the shower. This is especially critical if kids are involved in sports or activities where they sweat a lot, to keep their skin healthy.


Every tween’s hair is different, but every tween going through puberty should give their scalp a good scrub. Sweat, scalp oils, and changing hormones impact how quickly their hair gets dirty, and the last thing anyone tween wants is a greasy sheen instead of a healthy shine. If conditioner is a part of your kid’s routine, teach them how to apply it. Instead of coating their locks from root to end, focus on the areas that need it most.


Yes, I know — there’s been a million sightings of tweens taking over Sephora lately, but it’s not all bad. While they don’t need anti-aging serums or retinol creams, nailing down some simple skincare is beneficial. What do we mean by basic? Something as simple as washing their face, morning and night, and using sunscreen during the day.

If you want to get fancy (yes, I’m the mom of Sephora tweens), they can also add a basic moisturizer to the routine. Don’t forget, this isn’t just about their faces. Washing, hydrating, and protecting the skin on the rest of their bodies is just as important.


When it comes to controlling body odor, using a deodorant or antiperspirant does wonders. When you help your tween choose their first deodorant, make sure that they focus more on the ingredients and their needs and less on the packaging. Yes, the aerosol deodorant makes you feel fabulous and grown. But it’s not a body spray, and it has to actually make it to your armpits. (Yes, I was totally that tween). The point being, they might have to try a few different ones before they find the right one.

Changing clothes

Every parent of tweens has caught them doing the “smell test.” They take a quick whiff of a hoodie to see if it’s past its expiration date or if it can get one more wear before washing. Unfortunately, their changing bodies mean that clothes get way, way fewer wears than they once did. Encourage your kid to be diligent about changing their clothes and washing them appropriately, especially if they’re involved in activities that make them sweat a lot.

As they get older, we aren’t going to be able to control what their shower schedule looks like, but we can set them up for stink-less success — well, mostly. Maybe even more importantly, we can save our own noses.