As a mom I often find myself asking my 10 year old “Did you wash your hands?” I guess I can be a little intense about the topic. But, handwashing is so important to keep your children healthy. It can decrease the chance of getting sick by 50%! Studies have shown that handwashing can prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related illnesses and 1 in 5 respiratory infections such as influenza.
It’s important to start the habit of handwashing early on. Why?? Because germs are EVERYWHERE!!! On toys, on pets, on friends, and on everyday surfaces like library books, grocery carts, and restaurant tables. So, once those germs are on kids’ hands its very easy for them to infect themselves. One episode of nose picking, nail biting, or thumb sucking, or having a snack without washing up and it’s all over.
Ugh. I hate germs.
When to Wash
I think most people realize when they should wash their hands. You need to wash before eating. And, of course you HAVE to wash your hands after using the bathroom. But, if you’ve used a public bathroom lately you realize not everyone follows that rule. Gross but true. Another suggested time to wash your hands is after you blow your nose. You have to rinse those illness germs off. Pets can be another source of germs. So wash your hands after playing with Fluffy the cat or any animal. Also, remember to wash your hands after cleaning up after your pet (cleaning cat litter, poop scoop duty, or playing in the sandbox). Cats will sometimes use your sandbox as a litter box. Of course kids are still fascinated by gross things and will get into the garbage or the puddle or creek outside. You have to rinse those germs off too.
How to Wash Your Hands (Just in case you needed a reminder)
How well you clean your hands will effect whether or not you spread germs to yourself or others. A quick splash of water or one quick rub with soap won’t do the trick. Here is the technique that works the best:
- Wet your hands
- Apply soap (liquid soap is preferred over bar soap)
- Rub hands together for 10 to 15 seconds. Make sure to scrub every surface completely
- Rinse hands completely (you can use cold or warm water, the temperature of the water does not affect how many germs you wash off)
- Dry hands with a clean, disposable paper towel or single-use cloth towel
- If taps do not turn off automatically, turn off with a disposable paper towel
How can you make handwashing fun for your kids–sing a song! I just timed out a couple of these favorites for you and they will last long enough for your kids to get a sufficient scrub. Try “Happy Birthday” (2 verses) or” Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. Don’t worry if antibacterial soap is not available, regular liquid soap is just fine. Avoid bar soap that has been lying around and could be contaminated with bacteria. Also, make sure to completely rinse off soap and dry kids hands well. I see a lot of hand rashes this time of year from perpetual contact with hand soap because kids are in such a hurry to wash their hands and don’t rinse and dry well enough.
What about Alcohol-based Hand Sanitizers?
Sometimes soap and water are not available so the next best option is using hand sanitizer. It works really well actually as germ fighter but of course it won’t get dirt off your hands. Seriously, we all have been at the zoo or the petting farm where soap and water are nowhere to be found. The hand sanitizer will kill whatever germs our children picked up from the petting the goats or holding a turtle…or both. Ugh times two!
Using it is simple. You don’t need a lot of it, just a pea-sized amount should do for a kid’s hands. Apply the hand sanitizer to the palm of the hand and rub the product all over the surfaces of your child’s hands until the sanitizer dries.
Always remember that alcohol-based hand sanitizers are toxic if ingested by children and are flammable. If your child licks their hand after applying hand sanitizer don’t worry the amount they will have eaten isn’t a problem but if they open the container and drink from it you should call poison control (1-800-222-1222). Why?? Because the amount of alcohol in hand sanitizers can range from 40 to 95% (that’s a higher concentration than most hard liquors!) Kids that ingest alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be at risk for alcohol poisoning (symptoms can include confusion, vomiting and drowsiness, and in severe cases , respiratory arrest or death). Poison control will guide you based on how much your child ingested and let you know what to do.
Be careful not to get hand sanitizer in your child’s eyes, it will sting like crazy and will require you to flush out their eyes with water. Another good reason to make sure that it rubbed in completely. Also remember that hand sanitizers are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.
With all the illnesses around this time of year, one of your best strategies to avoid them is keeping your hands germ-free. Help your kids learn this important lesson and sing some songs to make it fun!