As a busy parent getting your kids to do anything they’re supposed to do, can be an uphill battle. “Pick up your things”, “Eat your greens”, “Get ready to go” – it’s like herding cats! But one thing you need to teach them early – and keep reinforcing, is that clean hands are critical.
That’s because there are germs on almost everything we touch. Door handles, table tops, phones, computer keyboards and toys can all harbour dangerous bugs. Once they’re on our hands, germs can get into our bodies when we touch our eyes, nose or mouth. And of course, kids do that all the time.
Harmful bacteria can also hitch a ride in food and drink. We prepare food with our hands and children in particular, often eat with their hands.
What’s the big deal?
Kids – and adults, get sick. You can’t avoid every cold that goes around, and snotty noses, coughs and sneezes are a natural part of growing up. But the germs you pick up with your hands can cause more than sniffles. In some cases, they’re downright dangerous.
The germs we transfer from everyday items can cause severe illnesses, especially in children. There’s diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach upsets, respiratory infections, persistent colds and nasty bouts of the flu – just to name a few. What starts with mild symptoms, can quickly get scary.
Antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses such as colds and flu. They can be used to treat bacterial infections, but the more we use them the more we risk germs building up a resistance. You may have heard about ‘superbugs’. These antibiotic resistant bacteria can cause life-threatening illnesses and are almost impossible to treat.
So, what can you do?
Don’t give germs a hand. Lead by example and make sure you always wash your hands before you handle food or eat, after the toilet, and after you blow your nose, cough or sneeze. If you’re changing nappies, cleaning up accidents or helping younger kids use the toilet, wash your hands straight after. Patching up cuts or grazes? Wash your hands before and after. If you touch an animal – even the family pet, wash your hands. The same goes if you’re handling their food, treats, toys, cages, or poo. After you put the rubbish out, or you’ve been working in the garden – you guessed it, wash your hands.
It’s not that hard
Washing your hands is the easiest and best way to prevent the spread of germs that can make you and your kids sick. Wash with soap and warm water or use hand sanitiser if these aren’t available. Yes, it can be a struggle – especially with younger ones. But if you get them to wash their hands with you, you’ll teach them good washing techniques, help them establish a routine, and ensure your own hands are clean at the same time.
Bar soaps, liquid soaps and antiseptic soaps will all get rid of the germs if you wash properly. Ideally you want to wash for at least 20 seconds (hum the ‘Happy Birthday’ song to yourself twice) and follow through with thorough drying. If you’re out and about, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Get a few bottles from your supermarket so you can keep them handy in your bag, the bottom of your pram, or the glove box of your car.
You can’t stop kids being kids, but you can teach them about the importance of washing their hands, and practice good hand hygiene yourself.