How many times have you and your child washed your hands today? You might not have given it much thought. It’s either part of your routine, done frequently without thinking, or maybe you don’t do it much at all. But as your pediatrician may have told you, hand washing may be the single most important act you and your child have for
Making hand washing a habit
As early as possible, get your child into the habit of washing their hands often and thoroughly. All day long, your child is exposed to bacteria and viruses—when touching a playmate, sharing toys, or petting the cat. Once their hands pick up these
germs, they can quickly infect themselves by:
The whole process can happen in seconds, and cause an infection that can last for days, weeks, or even longer.
When to wash hands
Hand washing can stop the spread of infection. The key is to encourage your child to wash their hands throughout the day. For example, help or remind them to wash their hands:
Before eating (including snacks)
After a trip to the
Whenever they come in from
After touching an animal like a family
After sneezing or
coughing if they cover their mouth
When someone in the household is ill
Steps to proper hand washing
So what does a thorough hand washing involve? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following steps:
Wet your child’s hands.
Apply clean bar soap or liquid soap to the hands, and then place the bar on a rack where it can drain before the next hand washing.
Rub hands vigorously together. Scrub every surface completely.
Keep rubbing and scrubbing for 20 seconds to effectively remove the germs.
Rinse the hands completely, then dry them.
About antibacterial soaps
Drugstore shelves are full of trendy antibacterial soaps, but studies have shown that these antibacterial products are no better at washing away dirt and germs than regular soap. Some infectious disease experts have even suggested that by using antibacterial soaps, you may actually kill off normal bacteria and increase the chances that resistant bacteria may grow.
The best solution is to wash your child’s hands with warm water and ordinary soap that does not contain antibacterial substances (eg, triclosan). Regular use of soap and water is better than using waterless (and often alcohol-based) soaps, gels, rinses, and hand sanitizer rubs when your child’s hands are visibly dirty (and with children, there usually is dirt on the hands!). However, when there is no sink available (eg, the car), hand rubs can be a useful alternative.
How long to wash hands
Keep in mind that although 20 seconds of hand washing sounds like an instant, it is much longer than you think. Time yourself the next time you wash your hands. Watch your child while they're washing their hands to make sure they are developing good hygiene behaviors. Pick a song that lasts for 20 seconds and sing it while you wash. Encourage your child to wash their hands not only at home, but also at school, at friends’ homes and everywhere else. It’s an important habit to get into, and hopefully one that’s hard to break.