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Four Tips for Teaching Handwashing Skills

3/31/2020 By Maria Longinotti, RBT

Handwashing is the best way to prevent the spread of germs and keep your family healthy, and it’s more important than ever due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Getting children to wash their hands can be a challenge though. Below, we’ve outlined several tips to teach your child handwashing skills.

1. Tell them when to wash.

It is important to develop a routine with your child and make handwashing a priority. It will take some time to turn it into a habit, but children learn when taught by example. Make it a family activity and participate in the routine with your child.

Help your child remember when to wash by incorporating it into existing routines around meals and playtime. Here’s a list of common times children should wash their hands:

  • Before eating
  • After using the restroom
  • After playing outside
  • After touching pets
  • After coughing or sneezing
  • Anytime their hands are visibly dirty

2. Show them the power of soap.

It can be beneficial to teach your child why you are washing your hands through a fun activity. Try this easy, interactive experiment to show how soap helps wash away germs.

  • Fill up the sink and sprinkle pepper on the surface of the water.
  • Have your child dip their hand in.
  • Point out how the pepper stays in place and sticks to their hands.
  • Next, have them coat their hand in soap and dip it in the water again.
  • This time point out how the pepper moves away from the soap on their hands!

3. Use a visual aid.

A visual aid will help your child remember the steps to proper handwashing. Post it at your child’s eye level above the bathroom sink so they can look at it each time. Download one of our visuals here or create your own!

My handwashing routine

Steps to remember:

  • Push up sleeves and grab a stool if needed to safely reach the sink.
  • Turn on faucet (warm water is recommended; provide supervision as needed).
  • Wet hands thoroughly.
  • Apply soap and scrub for 20 seconds. Remember to clean the front and sides of hands, along with in between the fingers.
  • Rinse hands under running water.
  • Dry hands with a clean towel or paper towel, or air dry with a hand dryer.
  • Reinforce! Lots of praise never hurts!

4. Make it fun!

In addition to washing your hands with your child, singing a song can help make it fun and ensure they’re washing for the proper amount of time. Remember, the goal is 20 seconds—make up a song or game, sing the Happy Birthday song twice or use a 20-second snippet from your child’s favorite show or movie! A countdown timer may also be helpful, depending on the child.

Handwashing is an important skill that children need to develop in order to protect themselves and their families. Taking the time to teach them when, why and how to wash their hands will help keep them interested and will help them wash more effectively.

For additional reading, check out the CDC handwashing page where the Centers for Disease Control provides information about the science behind handwashing as well as additional tips and tricks for teaching your child good habits.

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