Getting kids to wash their hands

Girl washing her hands

“Unfortunately, the flu often is easier to catch than the habit of hand-washing — especially when trying to reinforce these good practices in young children,” said Sharon Rengers, R.N., supervisor of the Children’s Hospital Foundation Office of Child Advocacy of Kosair Children’s Hospital.

Good hand hygiene starts with parents, according to Rengers. Washing hands with children is one of the best ways to help instill good hand-washing practices. Using soap and water, rub the hands together to make a soapy lather, and then scrub the backs of the hands, between the fingers and under the nails. To ensure you are killing germs, scrub for at least 20 seconds.

“Whenever you feel as though you have come in contact with germs, wash your hands,” Rengers said. “After you enter your home, after you use the restroom, before you prepare or eat food, wash your hands. And when your child sees you practicing good hand hygiene, he or she will follow by example.”

Here are some tips and tricks to help kids learn to love to lather:

  • Let your child pick out his or her favorite kind of soap.
  • Get in the habit of washing your hands together after returning home from an outing. Steady routines help habits form.
  • Make sure your child has a stool to comfortably reach the sink. Hand-washing should not seem like a chore.
  • Hang a poster in the bathroom that shows step- by-step instructions on proper hand-washing. Make the poster with your child and help him or her decorate it. It will be a fun reminder of the healthy habit.
  • Have your child choose a song that lasts at least 20 seconds. Sing it with your child while washing your hands so that both of you know you’ve scrubbed for the optimal amount of time.

Alcohol-based sanitizing gel is a good substitute when soap and water is not available. But do not solely rely on sanitizing gel, because it does not wash away the skin's natural oil layer, which can trap bacteria underneath. Children younger than age 3 should not use alcohol-based sanitizing gel. Children older than age 3 should be able to wash their hands on their own before using sanitizing gel.

With these tips and a steady routine, your family will be on track for staying healthy all winter long!

–Gayle J. Richardson