“Wash your hands!” It’s a well-worn phrase that I find myself saying at least a dozen times a day and one that I hear repeated by other parents at least a few times more. Whether your child is exiting the bathroom, has come in from playing from outside, about to sit down for a meal, or any circumstance where he or she might not be totally clean, washing hands is something that should become second nature.
With concerns about the seasonal 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 kids washing hands correctly? What about people in general? Does your preschooler even know how to really wash their hands the right way? It seems like such a basic task, but even the most basic things need to be taught at some point.
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.
Tips for Teaching Hand Washing to Preschoolers
- 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. Tell them. Basic information isn’t inherently known, it has to be taught at some point.
- 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 an “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 exactly how hand washing is done the right way. 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.