Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent personal illness and reduce the spread of illness in the community. So, teaching kids about when and how to effectively wash hands is an important tool in the effort to keep them healthy, and as a result, reduce school absences and missed work days. Adult hand washing, by the parents or those visiting your home can also keep your family healthy.
How to Wash Hands Correctly
Here are 5 steps (and some tips) to go over with kids:
1) Wash and Soap Get hands wet with clean, running water and add soap. Warm water is better then cold, but that can be tricky with little kids. Warm water is not always available in public bathrooms or school bathrooms to prevent injury by burning, which is probably a fair trade-off.
In households with kids though, the water heater should also be turned down to 120 degrees anyway to prevent burns so teaching older kids (probably around age 3-4) how to manage and test the water temperature is a great skill. Some faucets also come with or have the option for range limiters to prevent kids from turning the hot water too high. Shared buckets of soapy water do not qualify as clean, running water.
2) Lather Up! Teach kids how to clean *all* the parts of their hands and make bubbles while they do it! Fronts, backs, fingers, thumbs, and the tips of the fingers. (Keeping kids fingernails well-trimmed is also a good tip.) Lathering, done well, should take at least 15-20 seconds. The CDC recommends teaching kids to sing "Happy Birthday" twice while washing. Then rinse well.
3) Dry Off use an air dryer or a clean towel or paper towel and dry well. In public bathrooms, many paper towel dispensers are now automatic or have handles that can be operated using elbows if you are industrious. Using a paper towel to shut off the water is good practice as well. Most public bathrooms now also have garbage cans near the exit so that towels can be used to open the door (avoiding the cooties from others who dont wash their hands) before tossing them out.
When to Wash Hands
Hands should *always* be washed before eating or preparing or handling food and after handing uncooked meats or eggs. Also wash hands after changing diapers, treating an injury (cut, scrape, etc.), and after blowing a nose into a tissue or wiping someone else's nose (not to mention, since this is an article about kids, wiping of noses with hands!).
Coughing or sneezing into hands is also a time to wash, which is prompting the current recommendation to cough or sneeze into the armpit/upper sleeve. It's worth noting though that if you have a young baby, folks may have been coughing all day into a sleeve right where the baby's head goes when held laying down a receiving blanket or burp cloth under the baby's head is a good idea (use potential spit-up as an excuse so you don't even have to hurt anyone's feelings!). Anyone who enters the house, hospital or birth center to visit a newborn baby should wash their hands before touching baby or family members it is NOT rude to ask.
Lastly, everyone should always wash hands after using or visiting the bathroom, whether at a home, or in a public restroom.
Below, in related links, find the CDC website link on Hand Washing as well as a great little flyer from the Harris County Environmental Public Health Division that can be hung up for young children on when and how to hand wash. Also, below are links to a great little book about germs and hand washing in regular and board book bindings.
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