If your child is developing body odor, it's not necessarily cause for concern. As a child matures, her hormones begin to change, and she naturally begins to develop the bacteria that cause body odor. When she sweats and the sweat dries on her skin, the combination of bacteria, dirt and sweat can result in body odor.
Many young grade schoolers require deodorant, notes pediatrician Jennifer Shu. Although a 5-year-old is unlikely to develop body odor, a child older than the age of 8 is a candidate. Shu further notes that it is entirely normal for children between 8 and 12 years of age to develop a need for deodorant.
Body odor is one of the earliest stages of puberty. It isn't a sign that menses is starting or that your son's voice will change. It is, however, a sign that physical changes are coming, although they may still be months to years away. For most parents, this provides a window of opportunity to discuss puberty in more detail with your maturing child to help prepare your child for changes to come.
Children might be caught unaware by this change, which can lead to playground embarrassment. If your child sweats heavily or is involved in a sport, make sure she bathes daily and wears clean clothes to school. Although she may have a favorite sweater, check it discreetly before she wears it a second time to avoid any potential problems. Wash her towels and sheets regularly, too, to minimize any potential odor.
Dr. Shu notes that for most children, regular bathing and even avoiding certain foods, such as those laden with spices, onions or garlic, can help. But for some children, it's time to apply deodorant on a regular basis. It should be a mild deodorant and not an antiperspirant; children still need to sweat to be healthy. In addition, antiperspirants may cause skin irritation, making it difficult for children to adopt the habit of using it daily.
Although body odor is generally a sign that puberty is starting, it can also be a sign of a medical condition. Metabolic disorders, in which the body cannot metabolize certain enzymes, can cause body odor. So can some parasites, such as ringworm. Also, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) can cause body odor in some children. If your child isn't near puberty and is experiencing body odor, take her in for a check-up with her pediatrician to rule out a medical condition.