Teaching Kids to Wash Their Hands
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's more important than ever for everybody to wash their hands, but sometimes, it can be difficult to get kids into the handwashing habit. It's crucial to help kids understand why it's important to wash their hands, when to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer, and what to do if they need help staying healthy.
When to Wash
There are a few key times where you are more likely to get and spread germs, and washing your hands before or after those times can be beneficial in washing the germs away and decreasing the likelihood that you and your loved ones can get sick. These times include:
- Before eating
- Before touching your mouth, eyes, or nose
- Before touching any cuts or scrapes on you or another person
- Before, during, and after preparing a meal
- After going to the bathroom
- After playing with any kind of animal, whether they are your pet or another animal
- After touching any kind of animal food, treats, or waste
- After playing on the playground
- After you've spent time around somebody who is sick
- After you've touched a dirty diaper
- After you've touched the garbage
Four Steps to Clean Hands
Once you know when to wash your hands, it's important to know how to clean them. It's not enough just to douse your hands with water; you have to use soap as well. Here are a few easy steps to ensure that your hands are clean:
- Wet your hands with clean water and put enough soap on your hands to make suds. You want to be sure your hands are completely wet and soapy.
- Scrub your hands together long enough to sing the alphabet song, "Happy Birthday" twice, or another song of your choice. As long as you're not rushing through the lyrics, you should be getting 20 seconds of scrubbing in. While you're scrubbing, make sure you're cleaning the palms of your hands, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and underneath your nails. Your fingernails can trap dirt and germs, so it's important that you make sure to scrub there, too.
- Once you've scrubbed your hands enough, hold them under running water and rub them to fully rinse the suds off.
- Shake your hands a bit to dry them off, and then finish by drying them with a clean towel or a hand dryer.
Can't Reach the Sink?
If your children are too small to reach the sink by themselves, you can hold them up to help them reach the sink or place a small step stool by the sink to help boost them up so they can reach the faucet.
If there's no step available and they are too heavy to lift, you can still help them wash their hands by wiping them off with a wet and soapy paper towel. Then, you can use a clean wet towel to wipe off the remaining suds. Finally, use another clean paper towel to dry their hands. After your children's hands are clean, wash your own hands as well.
When to Reach for the Hand Sanitizer
Soap and water are the best tools for removing dirt and germs completely, but it's never a bad idea to have hand sanitizer as a backup, especially if you can't get to a sink right away to wash up. You should use an alcohol-based sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Have your child put a quarter-sized dollop of sanitizer in the palm of their hand and then rub it into the front and back of each hand and in between the fingers until both hands are completely dry.
- Hand Sanitizer vs. Hand Washing
- Which Is Better: Using Soap and Water or Sanitizer?
- Coronavirus: Handwashing and Sanitizers
Tips for Success
- Set a good example and practice what you preach so your kids can pick up on good handwashing habits. Wash your hands before, during, and after cooking a meal, after using the bathroom, and after working with your hands.
- Have patience. It can take some time to get children in the habit of washing their hands, especially if you want them to do it properly. Make sure you're available to give them the help they need.
- Don't forget to remind them to wash up. Kids may remember to wash their hands if they are obviously dirty, but they may forget that sometimes, germs can't be seen, and it's still important to wash those germs away.
Additional School Health Information for Kids
- How to Keep Kids Active During the COVID-19 Pandemic: It's important to find ways to stay active as a family at home during the pandemic.
- COVID Safety for Kids: Read this Q&A about the precautions families should be taking in their day-to-day lives due to the coronavirus pandemic.
- Children and Young People's Social, Emotional, and Mental Health: The pandemic is not only hard on physical health, but on mental health as well. The CDC has compiled some resources to help support the mental health and well-being of young people during the pandemic.
- Buster Baxter: Lung Defender: PBS Kids a fun game that can teach kids about things that can trigger asthma attacks.
- Food Critic Activity: This activity allows kids to select a new fruit, vegetable, or recipe to taste and rate.
- Kids and Exercise: Promoting Physical Fitness at Home: During the pandemic, it has become more important than ever to make sure that kids find new ways to stay active.
- Safe Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic: This article covers some ideas about how schools can be kept safe for kids to attend in person and why in-person education can be important for kids' development.
- How to Support Kids' Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A children's hospital offers a list of tips for parents to help them guide their children through the pandemic.
- Children's Activities About Healthy Eating: This page has creative learning activities and materials to help kids learn more about how to eat healthy.
- What Parents Can Do to Keep Kids Active During the COVID-19 Pandemic: This article explains why exercise is important for kids and lists tips for how to help kids stay active without contact sports.
- A Parent's Checklist for Preventing Injuries: Safe Kids Worldwide offers this checklist that can help adults to keep children safe.
- Kids and COVID-19 Safety Tips: Here are some safety tips for parents of young children to keep kids healthy during the pandemic.
- Food Groups Game: Good nutrition is an important part of keeping kids healthy.
- Children's Health and Well-Being During the Coronavirus Pandemic: This is a research study done about children's physical and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes in their lifestyles.
- Benefits of Exercise Crossword Puzzle: You can work with your kids to learn about the benefits of exercising with this crossword puzzle.
- Supporting Children's Health During and After the Pandemic: This article goes in detail about how the pandemic affects children's physical and mental health and offers some tips about how parents and caregivers can help.
- Is the Pandemic Harming Kids' Mental Health? This article from WebMD goes over how the pandemic is affecting children's mental health based on a study that tracked emergency visits in children who sought mental health care between Jan. 1 and Oct. 17, 2020.
- Help Your Kids Eat Healthy at Home: Eating healthy food can help the whole family stay well, both now and in the future.
- Tips and Resources for Children and Parents During COVID-19: Here are some tips for parents and caregivers who are dealing with children of all ages during the pandemic. These times are hard for people of all ages, and it's important to cut yourself some slack, too, especially when you're working with children.
- 14 Ways for Kids to Increase Physical Fitness and Awareness: The Department of Education has put together a resource page detailing tips for kids and families to help them get active, get more nutrition, and learn more about physical health.