Smelly Cat song (by "Phoebe" on the TV show Friends)
Smelly Cat, Smelly cat what are they feeding you?
Smelly Cat, smelly cat it's not your fault...
They won't take you to the vet.
You're obviously not their favorite pet.
You may not be a bed of roses,
And you're no friend to those with noses.
Smelly cat, smelly cat what are they feeding you?
Smelly cat, smelly cat it's not your fault
Kitty went through a couple of years where her body odor was horrendous. She was being sent home from school, and she was being constantly sent back to the shower by us. It was primarily what smelled like underarm issues, but deodorant barely made a dent.
I supervised showers (awkward!); made her shave her armpits; I bought tons of deodorant; I supervised laundry... nothing really seemed to make a difference. After over a year, the issue finally seemed to resolve itself back to a "normal teenager" issue (an occasional "forgot to wear deodorant" type smell).
I assumed she was doing something different -washing with soap for example, but recently read a string of posts in a Yahoo group that brought up some interesting alternatives. A lot of other parents of children with trauma are talking about the smell issue as well. Here are some possible explanations we discussed:
- Change in diet or parasites - particularly children adopted from foreign countries
- "RAD odor" - A lot of people talk about a specific RAD odor that ALL RAD kids have whether from an orphanage, foster care or family of origin- sometimes compared to animals who use smell defensively. It's in their hair, their skin, their used clothing, and doesn't alleviate until they've been in attachment therapy for a long time and are attaching to their family. The theory being that they subconsciously want to push everyone away. It's often worse when they are disregulated.
- "Smell of fear" - you've heard people talking about the smell of fear, I imagine this would be particularly intensified in a child of trauma
- Stress/nervousness - many children interpret the world differently and feel criticized and attacked constantly. The body does strange things under stress (hand and body sweating, gas, nervous tics...). For gassy/ potty smells - I know stress causes my digestive system and gastro-intestinal issues to flare
- Waste disposal - our bodies also release waste through the skin particularly the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands
- Underwear issues - many kids don't wipe, and are frequently constipated or "leak" during the day
- Hydration issues - many parents talked about the fact that their child's urine was much stronger smelling than normal this could be in part to not drinking enough which would concentrate the urine
- Sexually abused children often try to make themselves "less attractive" with poor hygiene
- Hygiene - maybe the child doesn't know how to properly clean themselves, brush teeth, or when to change undergarments, or maybe they forget or maybe deliberately don't take care of themselves (control issues, poor self-worth, trying to prove parents will reject them...).
- Hair - Kitty once went almost 6 months using only conditioner with no shampoo (we found out when she told the hairstylist who was cutting out the ratty knots in her hair). Can unwashed hair grease go rancid? Can we be sure the child is washing hair all the way down to the scalp?
- Stinky feet - Bob went 6 months wearing Crocs with no socks. The school called me and asked me to come get her because the other children were complaining of her foot odor (we had to throw the shoes away - even Febreeze and washing them couldn't get the smell out). Kids need clean socks, and more than one pair of shoes to give the other a chance to air out. Mine often get obsessed with one pair and won't change (Bob's Crocs, Ponito's Heelys).
- Laundry - even my neurotypical child is comforted by wearing the same clothes over and over (without washing). He also just reuses socks over and over rather than trying to find clean ones.
- Inability to let go - just like Bear never throws anything away, a lot of children especially feel that what comes out of them is part of them (flushing BMs can be a traumatic part of potty training). This can lead to food hoarding, pack rats, and even the inability to allow laundry to leave the room to be washed. (As a teen I wrote a story about a boy who wouldn't allow his hair to be cut and kept every hair that ever fell from his head).
- Allergies - food, seasonal, environment allergies. These can cause all sorts of body reactions - hives, gastrointestinal, foul breath due to sore throats, ear infections... Hubby and Bear are both allergic to underarm deodorant (and all shaving creams), causing big problems, as you can well imagine. Hubby is also allergic to Bromine so most carbonated beverages give him gas issues.
- Cover up - Bear tends to cover up smells with layer after layer of deodorant/ body wash/ cologne... rather than actually doing a good job cleaning. He frequently walks in a cloud. Not sure why he does this.
- Somatic issues - I know most people would rather not talk about itches, rashes, sores and pain - especially in "private areas." Our kids often won't tell us anything, whether it's "private" or not. Whether it's because they don't trust us, or they actually don't have enough somatic feelings to recognize it (which is why Kitty's constipation went unrecognized for so many years). We found out about Bear's hemorrhoids because he told the doctor at the RTC - he would never have told us.
- Control issues - there are often very few things children have control over. What goes into and out of their bodies is one of those few areas. Anorexia is VERY common in kids of trauma - not only because they hate their bodies (since they hate themselves it's only natural that they hate their bodies), but it is also a major control issue - no one can make you eat (well, not until you get to the hospital stage).
Things that might help:
Underarm - One thing we like is that waterless antibacterial soap. It works well for underarm issues and other stinky areas, because it seems to kill the bacteria that make the smell and have fewer allergens (depending on the kind you buy).
Stinky feet - Someone suggested soaking smelly feet in black tea or vinegar. I've used bleach water to cure fungus and athlete's foot. Socks and shoes that "breathe" and have as little synthetic materials as possible. Multiple pairs of shoes to give the time to completely dry. Try laundry sheets (like Bounce) in them? Something called Gran's Remedy is supposed to work well.
Laundry - Half a cup of vinegar or ammonia in laundry might help.
Breath and general BO - change in diet, watch for allergies (lactose intolerance is a common one) and carbonated beverages. Check for parasites. Try acidophilus (sp?) which can be found in yogurt and can also be taken as a supplement.
Here's a funny commercial for an "anywhere" and "everything" deodorant that's supposed to be all natural
Kitty's smell issues could have improved because we changed her meds, she's slowly healing from the trauma and feels safer, she's older and learning to take better care of her body... who knows.
Anyone else have any ideas?