One of the more sensitive issues a teacher may have to deal with is a student with poor hygiene. It is not an issue you easily can ignore, especially if it results in a student being ridiculed and rejected by her peers. If the child does not learn good hygiene by the time she leaves elementary school, she likely is in for a rough time in middle and high school.
Poor hygiene can take a variety of forms, including disheveled hair, dirty clothes, and body odor. Because of the potentially significant social and health implications of poor hygiene, you cannot sidestep those issues with students; you must deal with them with honesty and directness, and with sensitivity and concern for the student's emotional well being.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Make hygiene a regular part of your health curriculum. A variety of materials are available for teaching hygiene, including curricula, videos, and books. You might ask a kindergarten teacher, who often is used to dealing with those issues, for some tips on teaching hygiene. You will especially want to encourage the following behaviors among all your students: showering or bathing regularly, shampooing their hair, brushing their teeth, wearing clean clothes, washing their hands after using the bathroom, covering their mouths when coughing, and using tissues to wipe their noses.
Talk privately with a student with poor hygiene. Help the student understand that poor hygiene can cause illnesses, and that it can cause other children to avoid her. Talk with her about the basics of good hygiene; then zero in on her particular areas of need. You may need to give the student very specific instructions for good hygiene, and to teach behaviors we take for granted in most children. If you are uncomfortable talking with the student about those issues, you might ask the school nurse to meet with her.
Monitor the student's hygiene. Provide the student with a checklist of hygiene activities she should do on a daily basis, such as taking a shower or bath, washing her hair, brushing her teeth, combing her hair, putting on clean clothes, and so on. Have the student write those behaviors in a notebook, and tell her that those tasks are part of her homework assignment. For the first couple of weeks, meet privately with the student for a few minutes every morning to review how well she did her "homework," and praise her for any additional evidence of good hygiene.
Have some hygiene items handy in the classroom. You may find that a student with poor hygiene does not have some basic hygiene items at home. For occasions like those, keep a variety of basic items -- such as brushes, combs, tissue, soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrushes, and toothpaste -- in your desk. Let the student know that she can take what she needs as long as she makes good use of them. Check to make sure the student knows how to use the items.
Work out a private signal to cue a student who is picking her nose. Few behaviors turn off peers more quickly than a student who picks her nose. If you have a child who is a frequent nose picker, meet with her privately and let her know that other children find this behavior unpleasant and may avoid her as a result. Tell the student that she needs to use a tissue instead and provide her with a pack of tissues to keep in her desk. Work out with the student a subtle, non-verbal signal to alert her when she begins to pick her nose.