We’ve all heard that hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent getting sick, but children oftentimes don’t want to listen when their parents tell them to wash their hands. If this sounds like your child, it’s important you educate him or her on exactly why hand washing is so important.
How Do Germs Spread?
Unfortunately, germs can be easily spread by contact. By simply touching a contaminated surface then touching his or her eyes, nose or mouth, your child can become infected. Other ways germs can be spread include:
- Changing a dirty diaper
- Contact with a sick person’s bodily fluids
- Touching dirty hands
- Eating or drinking contaminated food or liquid
- Through droplets in the air that have been released by a cough or sneeze
How Should Children Wash Their Hands?
Not only is it important for your child to know how crucial it is to wash his or her hands, it’s also important to know how to wash hands. Children should wash their hands with warm water (although not too hot!) using soap for about 20 seconds. One way for children to know how long to wash their hands is to have them sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
Make sure they get in between the fingers and under the nails where germs and bacteria typically hang out. Once the hands are thoroughly cleaned, have your child rinse and dry well with a clean towel.
When Should Children Wash Their Hands?
Studies show that people (children and adults combined) only wash their hands 19% of the time after using the toilet or changing a diaper. Regular hand washing should be a rule for everyone in your family. Teach your child to wash his or hands:
- After blowing his or her nose, coughing or sneezing
- After using the bathroom
- After touching animals (this includes family pets)
- Before eating and cooking
- After being outside (playing, walking the dog, gardening, etc.)
- After cleaning around the house
- Any time he or she is around a sick friend or family member
- After touching garbage
What Happens If Your Child Doesn’t Wash Their Hands?
Perhaps the best way to get your child to wash their hands is to let them know what will happen if they don’t.
- You will catch more colds: This is a no-brainer, but worth reiterating. Let your child know that an estimated 80 percent of infectious diseases are spread by touch.
- Fecal matter may end up on your food: Yes, this is as gross as it sounds. If your child does not wash his or her hands prior to eating, fecal matter can make its way onto their food. This is also why it’s so important to wash their hands after going to the bathroom.
- You run the risk of getting pink eye: Conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye, is a highly contagious eye infection spread by hand-to-eye contact. If your child touches the secretions of an infected person, then their own eye, the infection will spread.
- You can develop diarrhea: No one wants to suffer from diarrhea. Fortunately, an estimated 30 percent of diarrhea-related sicknesses can be prevented by hand washing.
- You can get or spread food poisoning: Contaminated hands during food preparation cause many cases of foodborne illnesses. However, appropriate hand washing can greatly minimize the risk of food poisoning and other infection.
- You can contaminate others: If your child sneezes into his or her hands, then touches a friend or family member, the germs are then spread to them. The common cold and the flu are just a couple of the illnesses that can be spread by poor hand washing.
Does Soap Really Make A Difference?
Your child may ask if it’s really necessary to use soap when washing his or her hands. The answer is yes! While washing hands without soap can help reduce the risk of diarrhea, it can also leave dirt and germs on the hands no matter how hard you wash. Soap is substantially more effective to properly clean the hands.
Is Sanitizer As Good As Hand Washing?
While it is always best to use soap and water to wash your hands, hand sanitizer is a great option when you have no access to soap or water. An alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is best.
When using hand sanitizer, you should apply the product to the palm of your child’s hand and have your child rub the product all over the hand’s surface until the hands are dry. It is important to note that while hand sanitizer can greatly reduce the number of microbes on the hands, it will not eliminate all types of germs.
Which Diseases Do Hand Washes Help Prevent?
Make sure your child knows that washing his or her hands can help prevent against a number of sicknesses. These illnesses include gastrointestinal diseases, such as diarrhea; respiratory issues like pneumonia and the flu; and other infections. Each year, children lose 272 million school days to diarrhea alone, proving how important hand washing can be.
Does Water Temperature Matter When Washing Hands?
While any water temperature is effective when washing hands, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the CDC recommend using warm water if you can. This helps to maximize the effect of soap to remove soil and grease, which contain harmful microbes, when washing hands.
Does It Matter How Your Child Dries Their Hands?
Research shows that when your child wipes or dries their hands with towel or piece of cloth, it can remove some of the germs that weren’t eliminated during the hand wash. Using an air dryer does not offer this same benefit.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you or your child.