We come home from the playground: “Wash your hands.” We come home from the doctor’s office: “Wash your hands!” We come home from the Magic House: “WASH YOUR HANDS!”
Good hand hygiene is a must in our home, partly because Mommy is a germaphobe, but mostly because there is great evidence to show that clean hands help to prevent illness.
According to the World Health Organization, acute respiratory infections and diarrheal illness are two of the most common causes of child death in developing countries. The organisms (viruses and bacteria) that cause these types of illness are transmitted from person-to-person. Respiratory infections can be passed on when a sick person coughs or sneezes into the air or onto their hands and then comes in contact with someone else. Diarrheal illnesses are transmitted through small particles of feces (poop), either hand-to-mouth (food) or hand to hand. Studies have shown that washing hands with soap and water can reduce the rates of these infections by anywhere from 20-50 percent.
In the United States, most of the population is fortunate enough to have access to soap and clean water. Even so, respiratory and diarrheal illnesses are common causes of doctor visits, missed school, and decreased productivity. Here are some things to teach your children about hand washing:
When should your child wash his hands?
Anytime he is handling food (before cooking and eating)
After he is in contact with someone who is sick or injured
After using the bathroom or after changing diapers
After blowing his nose or sneezing/coughing into his hands
After contact with animals or animal poop
Anytime that his hands are visibly dirty for any reason
Proper hand washing technique is also important so be sure to help your little ones do it right.
How should your child be washing his hands?
Wet hands with clean, running water
Apply soap and lather, scrubbing hands for 20 seconds (give him a song to sing so that he knows approximately how long to scrub)
Rinse with clean, running water
Dry with a clean towel or air-dry
When soap and water are not available, hand sanitizers are another good option to reduce the amount of germs on tiny hands. Hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol content are the most effective at killing germs. Small children should be supervised when using these products so that they do not accidentally ingest them. Hand sanitizers should not be used when hands are visibly dirty; in those cases, soap and water are a must.
Hand washing is one of the most important things we can do to prevent the spread of germs and reduce the rates of infections of all kinds. My toddler thinks it is fun to use different smelling soaps, splash, and play with bath toys when we are washing, which is fine with me. What tips do you have to help promote hand hygiene in small children?