How to Help Your Kid Navigate the "Stinky Years"

Heather Logue Fact Checked
kids in sleeping bags with one plugging her nose
© Maria Manco / Stocksy United

Nearly everyone you ask will emphatically agree that they couldn’t be happier that their awkward tween years are far behind them — lost somewhere in the abyss of memories and nostalgia. 

Unless you’re a parent, of course. If you’re a parent, you are forced to revisit those truly uncomfortable years as soon as your own child reaches puberty. And when this happens, your kid won’t just be navigating the world of wispy facial hair and fluctuating hormones; they’ll also encounter new body odors. Or — to be fair — everyone in their lives will encounter their new body odors. 

When do kids start to smell bad? 

Kids start to get stinky when they hit puberty. Boys usually hit puberty when they’re between 9.5 and 14 years old, while girls are more often between the ages of 8 and 13.

If you have a stinky kid younger than that, it’s more likely that they’ve gotten into something gross (that can easily happen), which is the source of their unpleasant odor. 

Why do kids get stinky? 

Like all of us, they really have no choice in the matter. Their apocrine sweat glands (located predominantly in their armpit and groin) are the real culprits here.  

“Hormonal changes around puberty cause these glands to mature, producing sweat as well as oils, which are broken down by bacteria on the skin, accounting for the persistent smell,” explains Dr. Adewunmi Nuga, a family medicine physician at UW Medicine Primary Care at Woodinville. 

Though all of this is perfectly normal, dealing with the odor will need to be discussed with your child. 

What’s the best way to approach the subject? 

Despite being a completely ordinary part of life, discussing your child’s newly developed smell can be awkward for everyone involved.

“Make it clear that this is something everyone experiences, and there is nothing to be ashamed of,” says Nuga. “As much as possible, let your kid lead the conversation on body odor and what it means for their growing body. Their questions may surprise you and give you an opportunity to explore together to find answers.” 

She also emphasizes that teaching your tween by example and exhibiting good, healthy personal hygiene and grooming habits yourself goes a long way in showing (and not just telling) them how to act. 

Are there any resources that can help? 

You’re not alone in dealing with this subject matter, and there are resources to help you. Nuga recommends, which is the American Academy of Pediatrics parenting website. And, of course, your child’s pediatrician is often a trove of information. 

How do you kick the smell? 

When it comes to dealing with the actual smell, Nuga has some solid, straightforward advice:  

“The cure? Almost always good hygiene: regular showers focusing on the armpits and groin where sweat glands are concentrated, changing clothes and using deodorant or antiperspirant.” 

She also encourages parents to allow their kids to pick out their own personal hygiene products since they’ll feel more invested in using them. Luckily, there are endless kinds of deodorants for them to choose from, ranging from natural crystal sticks to super smell-fighting antiperspirants. 

Kids’ clothes are another culprit in creating bad odor. “Have them pay attention to their clothes. Clothes may not look dirty but can certainly hold on to smells from running around and sweating all day. Socks and underwear should be changed often, at least daily,” says Nuga. 

If your child’s odor is awful, cut back on serving them strong-smelling foods like onions and garlic. Nuga says these foods can make body odor worse. 

When should you be concerned about body odor? 

Body odor is a normal part of growing up. However, if your kid also has symptoms like frequent urination, difficulty gaining weight or fatigue, it’s time to check in with your pediatrician to rule out other issues. 

But more than likely, your stinky kid is just going through a normal stage of growing up. So, stock up on their favorite deodorant, offer them words of encouragement and wait for this to pass.