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The behaviour question

I have a sensitive issue with one of my 14-year-old female students: her clothes are unwashed and smell quite noticeably. Other children have noticed and tease her about it. This has led to her frequently making up stories to try to impress others and lessen the abuse she gets. Unfortunately, this just makes it worse as they can see through the lie. I really want to help her. What's the best solution? Should I approach her mother in the first instance?

What you said.

Zadok1

Why don't you actually talk to her about personal hygiene? Surely she's old enough to help out with washing her own clothes and taking care of her appearance. If her mum works, she may not even be aware there is a hygiene problem. When I was a little younger than your student, I wore the same socks to school for a week without washing them because they were "cool" socks. My mother would have been horrified if she had known. But if your student's mum is really busy, then having her daughter come home and offer to help out with the washing might be a great help. This also applies if there are other problems at home. You should be aware, however, that there may be a care issue here.

The expert view

Find out all you can from the senior leadership team before you tackle this - there may be greater issues. If there are none, then the only way to do it (if you do want to talk to the mother) is as part of a larger conversation. You want to avoid the "Hello, your daughter smells" thing. Have a chat about other issues and bring it up as part of that. That said, it's hard to avoid tackling this head on, if you want to do it properly. You can't pussyfoot. You could say: "Some of the girls tease her because they say she has an odour problem." That way you bring it up without being too blunt. If the mother says, "Is this true?" you can agree, with regret. Better to come from you, than that she doesn't know.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru. Read more from Tom on his TES Connect blog (bit.lytombennett) or follow him on Twitter at @tesBehaviour. Watch his behaviour videos at tesconnect.combehaviourvideos

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