Every year during cold and flu season germs become public enemy #1. Often after “sick season” is over everyone goes back to acting carefree about cleanliness. Children are notorious for not being careful when it comes to spreading germs. Teaching them to be hygiene conscious can be a daunting task. However, with the right approach children can be taught to practice good hygiene habits like regular hand washing.
It’s a Matter of Time
Hand washing after using the bathroom may seem like a waste of time to young children. They often want to rush through hand washing so they can get back to whatever activity they were doing. Teach them to wash their hands long enough to get them clean. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) hands should be scrubbed with soap for at least 20 seconds under clean, running water. The CDC suggests humming the Happy Birthday song from beginning to end twice as a way to time hand washing. The CDC also suggests that hands should always be washed:
- After using the toilet
- 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 changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used 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
Seeing is Believing
The majority of the population consists of visual learners. Showing children how to judge when they have completed a task increases their chances of doing it successfully. When it comes to hand washing, a good visual aid would be to teach children to lather soap on their hands until they create a “soap glove”that covers both their hands. (The CDC website states, “If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to clean hands.”)
Make learning good hygiene habits fun for children. There are numerous illustrated books available. The website PlayfulNotes.com has compiled a list of books about personal hygiene for toddlers and preschoolers. The list includes books about washing hands, brushing teeth, and taking baths. For ambitious parents and caregivers creating a poster or personalized book with the children in your life can be a fun activity. Meet the Hygiene Team Featuring Neat and Tidy is my example of a fun way to teach young children about hygiene. It was added to the American Dental Association Library’s circulating collection of Children’s Books on Dentistry in 2004.