Have you ever heard the old saying, “When you look good, you feel good?” In many cases, the inverted version of that sentence is also true, “When you feel good, you look good.” Sometimes, the kids at Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch don’t feel good OR look good. The reasons vary by child, but commonly fall into a few different categories.
Mental Illness. Many of the children who come the Ranch are experiencing a mental illness. They are so focused on battling their overpowering emotions, they have no energy left to devote to hygiene and self-care.
Lack of appropriate role models. In some instances, kids come to us without appropriate role modeling—they just don’t know what makes up good hygiene. No one has told them how often they should wash their clothes or their hair, or taught them how to use basic toiletry and cleaning products.
The absence of appropriate role models also shows up in the clothes they wear. No one cared or took the time to explain appropriate attire. Most teenagers push the boundaries regarding the clothes they wear—with parents telling them to go back to their rooms to change. Without parental guidance, kids don’t learn what is appropriate.
In other cases, children have moved from place to place with nothing but the clothes on their back. They come to us with their worldly belongings in plastic garbage bags. They wear what is available, what they can afford, or what they can find.
Abuse, neglect and other trauma. In yet another set of circumstances, children have been abused, neglected, or otherwise traumatized and they don’t want to look presentable. They use poor hygiene and self care to keep people away—because they don’t trust the intentions of people who want to get close to them.
Without understanding the reasons for their lack of hygiene, it would be easy to judge our kids and demean them for wearing dirty clothes or refusing to bathe. It seems so simple. But it’s really quite a complex, confusing, and difficult issue for our kids to work through. It’s our job to help them work through the trauma, identify their roadblocks, and help them begin and maintain healthy hygiene and self-care habits.
At the Ranch, we work with these kids one-by-one to assess their needs, and help them work through the issues contributing to improper hygiene. For some kids, that might mean a trip to the salon to have their hair washed and styled so they experience what it feels like to have clean hair.
Other kids work with occupational therapy and direct care staff to learn how to care for themselves, and to come up with a hygiene plan that addresses their specific area of need.
We work hard to give all of our kids a sense of pride in their appearance; and a sense of ownership of their personal items. We purchase duffel bags and suitcases so they don’t have to leave the building with their belongings in garbage bags; we teach them how to properly care for and store their personal items; we provide shampoo, toothpaste, soap, and other hygiene items; and we teach appropriate hygiene and self-care skills.
In the end, when you look good, you feel good, and when you feel good, you look good. Both are true. Both are important. Both are what we strive to achieve for our kids.