“Ok everyone, it is time to eat. Make sure to wash your hands before sitting down,” reminded the mother to her children. This is a common reminder many parents use prior to eating and it illustrates the importance parents place on hand washing.
Washing hands is one of the best ways for children to prevent various diseases including the cold, flu, and RSV. It is so effective because it is estimated that about 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch. Germs for various diseases can live on door knobs, countertops, tables, and other spaces for up to a week. All it takes for a disease to take hold is for children to touch an infected surface and then put their fingers in their mouth, rub their eyes, or touch their nose.
Despite the risk of contracting a disease, children often neglect to wash their hands as frequently as they ought to. This may be due to a lack of training or choosing to not wash them because it takes too long. Parents can avoid both issues if they start early with their children and make hand washing a routine. Once an activity becomes a routine then children tend to do it automatically. The effectiveness of a routine that is established early on can be seen when children automatically put on a seat belt when they get into a car.
The initial step in establishing a hand washing routine is for parents to make sure that their children are washing them correctly. Children first need to wet their hands and then apply a clean bar of soap or liquid soap to their hands.
Children then need to rub their hands vigorously together. They need to make sure every surface is scrubbed completely including the backs of their hands and in between their fingers. They need to rub their hands for at least 15-20 seconds. It can be hard for children to know when 15-20 seconds has elapsed so it can be helpful to develop a hand washing song that is about that length.
One example sung to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is below:
Wash, wash, wash your hands,
Play our handy game.
Rub and scrub and scrub and rub
Germs go down the drain
Repeat this song two or three times to get to the necessary 15-20 seconds. There are several other songs that can go along with hand washing. Whatever song parents choose, they should make sure it’s catchy and memorable so children will use it.
Once children have learned how to wash their hands, they need to learn when to wash them. This may take a while for children to learn and parents will need to remind them until it becomes a routine. The times to wash hands include; before eating, after a trip to the bathroom, whenever children come in from playing outside, touching an animal or family pet, after sneezing or coughing into their hands, and when someone in the house is ill. It is important for children to realize that hand washing needs to occur throughout the day.
Parents should start early with their children in teaching them how and when to wash their hands. When children consistently receive the message of the importance of hand washing then it will become a routine. Have your children start washing their hands regularly and see how it cuts down on family illnesses.
This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on January 17, 2015