9 ways to get kids washing their hands

Here’s one great reason for teaching our naturally grubby and grotty kids the golden hygiene rule of hand washing: they’ll spend less days feeling miserable and having snotty little faces like glazed doughnuts.

And that’s no glib claim. Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US has found that frequent hand washing with soap and water can reduce the number of illnesses and infections in children under five years old by at least 50 percent.

While it can be hard getting the littlies into good hygiene practices, it’s widely believed that habits learned young are more likely to become ingrained and stay into adulthood. Like teeth-cleaning and covering mouths when we sneeze and cough, hand washing needs to be part of everyday life for healthier, happier families.

So how can we get our kids to wash their hands without our naggy voices starting to sound like white noise to our littlies?

Tips for mums and dads

1. Make it easy, comfortable and safe to do

Little ones may find it hard to reach the taps and basin easily. So provide a child-safe stool or step they can use.

2. Make it a fun experience

Until the habit is firmly in place, use fun-looking soap pumps or brightly coloured little soaps, maybe in fun character shapes, that are just for them.

3. Come up with a hand washing ditty

Scientists know that to get rid of 90 percent of germs we need to wash our hands with soap for about 20 seconds – that can seem like an eternity for a tot. So why not come up with a special song or nursery rhyme to help pass the time. If inspiration fails, a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday should do the trick.

4. Set up a hand washing chart

There doesn’t have to be a prize at the end because kids will just love ticking off the box.

5. Introduce some art and craft

Sit down with your child and create a poster that shows them the steps of hand washing. If they can’t read, why not draw pictures, cut out photos from magazines or download images from the internet.

6. Model good hand washing behaviour

Little children are visual and kinetic learners – they learn best by seeing and doing. They also love to be big kids and copy what Mum and Dad do. So make sure they see you wash your hands at key times, and talk about what you’re doing.

7. Repetition rules

Youngsters learn best also through repetition and reinforcement – so don’t think if they get it right the first time, the lesson is learned.

8. Talk about germs and illness, but in a balanced way

Kids need to know why they’re washing their hands – that is, to get rid of germs that can make them sick – but it doesn’t need to be a horror story that gives them nightmares.

9. Create rituals and routines

Kids respond to routines so make sure they know when they should be washing their hands – for example, after going to the toilet, before eating, after playing with pets

Some interesting facts and research

Here’s some valuable information about why we need to wash our hands – you may or may not want to share it with the offspring.

  • According to research, the simple act of hand washing reduces the risk of getting a stomach bug by as much as 47 percent.
  • Between two and 10 million bacteria lurk between fingertip and elbow.
  • Damp hands spread 1000 times more germs than dry hands
  • The number of germs on fingertips doubles after using the toilet
  • Germs can stay alive on hands for up to three hours.

This article was written by Fiona Baker for Kidspot, New Zealand’s best parenting resource for teaching children healthy habits.

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