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BellaOnline's Early Childhood Editor

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Hand Washing and Kids


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 don’t 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.




Disclaimer: All material on the BellaOnline.com Early Childhood website is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Although every effort is made to provide accurate and up-to-date information as of the date of publication, the author is neither a medical doctor, health practitioner, nor licensed mental health professional. If you are concerned about your health, or that of your child, consult with your health care provider regarding the advisability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your individual situation. Information obtained from the Internet can never take the place of a personal consultation with a licensed health care provider, and neither the author nor BellaOnline.com assume any legal responsibility to update the information contained on this site or for any inaccurate or incorrect information contained on this site, and do not accept any responsibility for any decisions you may make as a result of the information contained on this site or in any referenced or linked materials written by others.

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CDC Wash Your Hands Website
Hand Washing Flyer
Kids and Stomach Flu
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Content copyright © 2014 by Nicki Heskin. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Nicki Heskin. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Nicki Heskin for details.

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