Handwashing really is our best defense against many kinds of bacteria and viruses that cause infection. When children come into contact with germs, they can unknowingly become infected simply by touching their eyes, nose, or mouth. And once they’re infected, it’s usually just a matter of time before the whole family comes down with the same illness. Good handwashing is the first line of defense against the spread of many illnesses — from the common cold to more serious infections, such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, the flu, hepatitis A, and most types of infectious diarrhea.
Despite widespread knowledge of the importance of handwashing, there is still room for improvement. A recent study showed that only 31% of men and 65% of women washed their hands after using a public restroom. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hygiene interventions including hygiene education and promotion of hand washing can lead to a reduction of diarrheal cases by up to 45%. By getting children to wash their hands, which is usually the first line of defense against the spread of many diseases, the rate of infection is reduced significantly.
Germs can spread many ways, including:
- Touching dirty hands
- Changing dirty diapers
- Through contaminated water and food
- Through droplets in the air released during a cough or sneeze
- On contaminated surfaces
- Through contact with a sick person’s body fluids
Washing Hands Correctly
Here’s how to scrub those germs away. Teach this routine to your children — or better yet, wash your hands together often so they learn how important this good habit is:
- Wash your hands in warm water. Make sure the water isn’t too hot for little hands.
- Use soap and lather up for about 20 seconds (antibacterial soap isn’t necessary — any soap will do). Make sure you get in between the fingers and under the nails where germs like to hang out. And don’t forget the wrists!
- Rinse and dry well with a clean towel.
To minimize the germs passed around your family, make regular handwashing a rule for everyone, especially:
- Before eating and cooking
- After using the bathroom
- After cleaning around the house
- After touching animals, including family pets
- Before and after visiting or taking care of any sick friends or relatives
- After blowing one’s nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After being outside (playing, gardening, walking the dog, etc.)
Young children, toddlers and preschool age, learn through their senses: touching, seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling. Because germs can’t be seen, felt, tasted, or heard, making them tangible through play is a great way to teach the importance of proper handwashing. Here are some tips on how to help them learn about handwashing and good hygiene habits.
- Singing handwashing songs
- Drawing and coloring
- Telling stories—read books about washing and germs
- Supervise their handwashing after they use the toilet and before they eat
- Keep a stool by the sink so that they can reach easily.
Children tend to look up to parents and caregivers as their role models and follow by example. So, parents and caregivers should set a good example by demonstrating good personal hygiene habits. Washing hands properly and thoroughly is one of them. Don’t underestimate the power of handwashing. The few seconds you spend at the sink could save you trips to the doctor’s office.