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How To Teach Your Child To Wash Hands


About 1.8 million children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, the top two causes of death in young children around the world. 1 out of every 3 young children who get sick with diarrhea and 1 out of 5 young children with respiratory infections like pneumonia could have been protected by washing their hands with soap.

Teaching your child to wash their hands whenever needed can keep your child healthy and also help to improve their attendance in school. Good handwashing is the first line of defense against common colds and more serious infections such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, the flu, hepatitis A, and many types of diarrhea.

As antibiotics are also prescribed unnecessarily for some of the health issues, reducing the number of these infections by washing hands frequently helps prevent the overuse of antibiotics in children. This will prevent your child from developing antibiotic resistance. Handwashing can also prevent your child from getting sick from germs that are already resistant to antibiotics and are difficult to treat.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one should wash hands with soap and warm water and scrub for about 20 seconds.

When should your child wash his or her hands?

1. Before eating

2. Before and after using the toilet

Feces from people or animals is an important source of germs like Salmonella, E. coli O157, and norovirus that cause diarrhea, and it can spread respiratory infections like adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease.

3. After touching animals

4. Before and after visiting any sick friends or relatives

5. After blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing

6. After being outside (eg. playing, taking a walk)


It is important for children to wash their hands during these times and when needed as people, especially children, frequently touch their eyes, nose and mouth unknowingly. Germs can get into the body through these parts.

Steps of hand washing

1. Wash the palms

2. Scrub each finger and between each finger

3. Rub back of hands and between fingers

4. Rub the base of the thumbs

5. Rub the back of the fingers

6. Scrub the nails on palms

7. Wash the wrists

8. Dry hands with a clean towel or tissue

How to teach your child to wash his or her hands:

1. Explain why hands need to be washed

Parents can share with kids about the benefits and purposes of washing their hands. Parents can tell their babies that their elder brother or cousins suffered from stomachache because they did not wash their hands before a meal and thus, the bacteria from their hands goes into their stomachs and caused the stomachache.

You can show them videos and animations of germs on hands and the importance of hand washing and try explaining it in their terms. You can say how the unseen "germs" on their hand are like enemies to their bodies. Another tip is to try talking with them when they’re not in the moment of playing or excitement. This includes calmer moments where they are able to concentrate, such as dinner-time and bedtime.  This way, they can absorb what you are trying to say better.

2. Teach them the proper way of washing hands

After 12 months old, babies are capable of performing simple jobs such as helping you to pick up things and they are very eager to try tasks out. Parents can make use of this and teach their babies to wash hands before a meal and after using the toilet.

The proper way of washing hands is essential to ensure that as much bacteria is eliminated from their hands as possible. Make sure that all parts of their hands are washed. Parents can wash their hands together with their children, demonstrate to them how to wash their hands properly. Explaining to them why certain parts such as underneath the nails need to be cleaned will also make them feel compelled to wash those areas.

3. Use glitter

Using glitter during hand washing works well to help children learn the importance of hand washing as the glitter represent germs. Parents can sprinkle glitter onto their own hands and the hands of some volunteers and ask them to shake their hands with their children. With that, the children will be able to see all the glitter that have accumulated in their hands and understand the concept of unseen germs when they touch surfaces and people. By understanding this by themselves, they will feel the need and want to wash their hands properly to get rid of the germs.

The glitter are also hard to wash off, just like regular germs. Washing with water will only get a few glitter off while water with soap manages to get much more glitter off their hands. This activity will be able to allow them to understand the importance of removing germs from their hands.

4. Teach them to wash their hands independently

Parents should bring their children to the sink to wash their hands for the first few times. After that, tell them to pump out the hand soap by themselves. They will find it fun to wash their hands and like the feeling of being independent. For a start, hold their hands and help them rub the hard-to-reach areas with their small fingers. Do it slowly and do not rush the activity.

Once you are sure that they know how to wash their hands, allow them to go to the bathroom and the sink to wash by themselves. Ask them to wipe their hands dry with a cloth after that. By asking them to do it independently, they will feel proud of being able to wash their hands themselves. Remember to praise them after that as well.

5. Allow them to scrub their hands for more than 20 seconds

Children and adults should wash their hands with soap and warm water and scrub for about 20 seconds. However, one tip is to aim higher for the duration of handwashing so that even if you fall shorter than the normal timing, you will still hit the recommended duration. Do not rush your children when they are washing their hands. Even if they take a little longer than 20 seconds, let them continue rubbing their hands if they enjoy the activity. After a few more seconds, tell them that it is enough and to stop as all the germs are gone.

6. Be patient

Children tend to be careless when they are washing their hands. When first introduced the activity of handwashing, they might not know what to do. Avoid scolding them when they make a mess. Scoldings and naggings may discourage the children from enjoying handwashing and cause them to detest the activity. If they forget the process and what to do, be patient and remind them how to do it again.

It is also easy for babies to wet their clothes when trying to wash their hands by themselves. When this happens, remember that this is a temporary stage they will have to get over with and avoid getting upset. You can help to reduce water dripping onto their clothes by lifting the younger children on a higher stool or with your arms for them to wash their hands.

7. Make it a habit and be consistent

Parents need to monitor when their children need to wash their hands, such as before mealtimes and after playing outdoors. Ensure that washing hands is a habit and there are no situations where they can refuse to do it.

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