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Teaching Kids to Wash Hands

Preschoolers can learn how to stop the spread of germs and practice good hygiene


Washing Hands
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"Wash your hands!" It's a phrase that I find myself saying at least a dozen times a day, and one that I hear repeated at least few times more.

With concerns about the seasonal flu and H1N1 virus (swine flu) dominating conversations and headlines, it's comforting to know that so many people appear to be so aware of the need to stop the spread of germs and increase personal hygiene, but one big question still remains:

Are people washing their hands correctly?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with clean, running water and soap using warm water if it is available. If clean water is not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be substituted, but note that these types of products don't remove dirt or soil -- soap and water really is the best option.

It's particularly important that kids know the proper way to wash hands. With the CDC reporting that up to 80% of all infections are transmitted by hands, and kids often being in such close proximity to one another at preschool and daycare, sharing snacks, toys and everything else, washing hands is an important tool in their arsenal to fight germs.

Here are a few teaching tips:

  • Wash your own hands. Kids learn best when someone sets a good example. By washing your own hands in front of your little one, you not only show her the proper technique, but that you think the task is an important, necessary one.
  • Talk about when. It makes sense to you to wash up before you eat or after you've gone to the bathroom, but your little one might not necessarily realize when they should be heading towards the sink.
  • Talk about why. Again, what is obvious to adults isn't always to kids. On a basic level, explain how hand washing helps remove germs that can make them sick. One dad I know has his kids go on a "invisible germ hunt," ridding their skin of the microscopic creatures with the only weapon that can destroy them -- soap.
  • Talk about how (and how long). Bring your little one into the bathroom (or kitchen) and show them how it is done. Show him the difference between the hot and cold water, marking the two somehow so he won't get confused. (The hot water temperature should be set at about 120 degrees to avoid burns.) Review the technique, showing him the proper amount of soap to use (about the size of a quarter if you are using liquid soap) and how to scrub it in. Little ones have no concept of time, so set a timer for 20 seconds or simply have them sing "Happy Birthday" or the alphabet song twice.
  • Make sure the sink is accessible. If the sink is too high for your preschooler, invest in a step stool so she can reach the faucet. Make sure the soap is within arm's length.
  • Make it fun. Buy funny, fruit-smelling soaps or ones that feature their favorite characters. Walk into any drugstore and you can find dozens of different types in all colors and styles.

Related: Preschooler Self-Care Skills

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