Developing Hand Washing Habits in Your Kids
If you have little ones, you know there’s seemingly no limit to the number of things they may touch in a day. From the family pet and playground equipment to random garbage on the street and even their own noses, the world is filled with interesting things to explore and, unfortunately, places to pick up illnesses ranging from the common cold to hepatitis.
While you can’t keep them from coming into contact with germs, you can reduce their risk of contracting illnesses by teaching them good handwashing habits.
Here are some tips to encourage healthy handwashing for life.
Be a role model
It's never too early to model handwashing for your children. The more your children see you washing your hands, they’re more likely to adopt the habit as they grow. When they’re young, be sure to announce when and why you are going to wash your hands. Maybe you’ve been petting the dog or handling a diaper; explain that since you touched something you’re going to wash your hands to get rid of germs.
Teach proper washing technique
When first teaching your child how to wash their hands, be sure to demonstrate how it’s done and explain what you’re doing. Here’s what you want to cover:
- Get wet and sudsy: Get your hands wet in clean water. Using either a liquid or bar soap, put enough on your hands to get them good and sudsy.
- Rub, rub, rub: Begin by rubbing your hands together being sure to clean your palms, the back of your hands, in between your fingers, and under your nails. Rub your hands together as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice.
- Rinse: Hold your hands under clean, running water, turning them over as needed to rinse them free of suds.
- Shake and dry: Once your hands are suds-free, shake them a few times over the sink then dry them with a clean towel or hand dryer.
Emphasize when to wash
Just as important as teaching kids how to wash their hands, is making sure they know when to do it.
You may find it’s helpful to break things down into before and after washing triggers:
- Touching their eyes, mouth, or nose
- Touching a cut or wound
- Going to the bathroom
- Coughing or sneezing into their hands or blowing their nose
- Playing with pets or other animals
- Touching pet food or treats
- Being on playground equipment
- Spending time with someone who is sick
- Touching a dirty diaper
- Touching garbage
While nothing is as effective and soap and water for ridding hands of germs, hand sanitizer is a solid back-up when you’re out and about. Always look for a sanitizer that’s 60% alcohol. Teach your child to use about a quarter-sized amount of sanitizer and to rub it all over their hands in the same way they would soap suds, rubbing their hands until they’re fully dry.
Bridget Bromirksi, PNP, is a nurse at SVMC Women’s and Children’s Services Department.