Teaching Children To Wash Their Hands

Hand-washing is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to prevent illness and the spread of infections.

It is crucially important for children to wash their hands during every season of the year, but especially when the common cold, flu, and other viruses are being passed around more frequently in the environment. Flu activity increases beginning in October and usually peaks between the months of December through February.

It’s a good idea to teach children fun ways that encourage them to wash their hands so that they can create a habit of hand-washing early, having established the habit already once they are older. Children should also be taught times when it is especially important to wash their hands and know the hand washing procedures that best benefit one’s health.

Peak times when hand-washing is critically important according to the CDC:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

Correct hand-washing procedures:

  • Wet hands with clean
  • Apply soap and rub hands together, making sure to lather all parts of the hands with the soap: back of hands, palm of hands, between fingers, around and under fingernails.
  • Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse hands completely under clean water.
  • Dry hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Ways to encourage hand-washing practices in children:

1. Hand-washing song

The song used doesn’t have to be one specifically about hand-washing. It can be any song your child enjoys singing and knows well enough to sing all the way through (a couple times for shorter songs, maybe). Hint: the “Happy Birthday” song is 20 seconds long when sung twice completely.

2. Show your child visually how many germs are left on our hands, even after we’ve washed them.

Local health departments will sometimes schedule demonstrations for children to see what the germs look like on our hands using a special gel and a UV light. The gel is simply applied to a child’s hands and after washing them, the gel can still be seen on the child’s hands using the UV light, especially if they were not washed for a long enough time. If this resource is not available in your area, these items can be purchased online.

3. Display visuals in the bathroom to serve as reminders.

Visual cues help remind children the order in which they should wash their hands. There are many steps to washing hands correctly. When children are first learning to wash their hands by themselves, the order of steps can be difficult to remember. Many free, informative printables can be accessed through trusted resources online, such as the CDC. Some examples are below.

As in many cases, one of the best ways to show your children the importance of hand-washing is through modeling. When your child is nearby, announce whenever you wash your hands and why you are washing them at the particular time, such as before preparing a meal. Hand-washing practices are simple and do not take much time out of the day, though its benefits do make a big difference in one’s health.

Preventing illness by washing hands can keep children from having sick days out of school and keep their immune system strong.

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