Teaching Kids Handwashing
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Teaching Kids Handwashing

There are so many important aspects of providing a healthy upbringing for your kids. You need to provide a safe home, age-appropriate schooling, family connections, opportunities to try healthy foods, chances to get outside for some exercise, a regular bedtime, and visits to their primary care provider. 

But there is one more important skill all kids need to learn to protect their health now and in the future; it’s how to wash their hands properly. A warning: teaching handwashing is not easy. Proper handwashing takes time and includes a lot of steps. And kids are busy. When it counts, they would rather do anything else. So how do you ensure they are getting it? Here are some expert tips.

Teach the why. Handwashing is the cheapest, easiest, and most effective way to prevent the spread of germs. Washing our hands keeps the washer and everyone around them safer from illness. Getting sick keeps us from doing the things we love to do. There are many fun age-appropriate ways to teach the why of handwashing. Try this great experiment from Parents magazine or look for books about germs and handwashing at the local library.

Teach the when. There are so many important times to wash our hands! The best way to pass this important information on is to model. Be sure that you know the moments to wash and vocalize when you are washing your hands and why.

Teach the how. Setting an example is also the most powerful way to teach how to wash hands. If you do it properly, your children are likely to do so as well. Beyond that, there are many great ideas, including songs and practice. Tips for teaching children with differing abilities are available here and from your educators and pediatricians.

Make it easy and fun. Have everything your child needs within easy reach. For instance, if your child has difficulty reaching the sink, get a small step stool to leave nearby. Hang up a picture poster, so they will remember the steps. Consider getting a special soap or towel to add some excitement to the handwashing process.

Watch and reinforce. Praise is a powerful motivator. Follow through by watching your child wash their hands and praising them when they do it well. Redirect gently when they need help.

Make it a priority, even when it’s not convenient. When you are not near a sink, have baby wipes on hand to remove dirt or food from hands and sanitizer available to disinfect. Baby wipes alone are not a good substitute for handwashing, and sanitizer should not be used to clean visibly dirty hands. You really need both! Knowing you find it important will help them see the importance too.

It takes a concerted and consistent effort to teach handwashing to kids, but it is so worth it. The time and energy you expend will add up to a lifetime with less illness for your child and everyone they encounter.

Nancy Noel directs the Learning Tree Childcare Center, part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, in Bennington. 



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