No matter how much you ask (and sometimes plead), getting your child to wash their hands is tough under the best of circumstances.
“Kids are just so busy all the time that asking them to take a break to wash their hands feels like a chore,” Gina Posner, MD, a board certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Still, handwashing is crucial. “Handwashing is an effective way to prevent respiratory and gastrointestinal infections in kids,” says Katie Lockwood, MD, a primary care pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), handwashing can prevent up to 40 percent of diarrheal illnesses and up to 21 percent of respiratory illnesses like the common cold and the flu.
“People (and kids especially) touch their eyes, nose and mouth all the time and don’t even realize it. These are the main portals of entry for germs into our bodies so keeping hands clean is important to prevent germs from getting into our bodies,” says Patricia Garcia, MD, a pediatrician at Connecticut Children’s Hospital.
The CDC actually has pretty specific instructions on how handwashing should be done:
- Wet your hands with clean running water (it can be warm or cold), turn off the tap and apply soap.
- Work up a lather by rubbing your hands together with soap, making sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse your hands under clean water.
- Dry your hands with a clean towel or air-dry them.
When it comes to soap, something like Dial® Gold is a good option, according to Charles Shubin, MD, a board-certified pediatrician with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
So… how can you get kids to actually do this?
Kids, like adults, need to wash their hands a lot. “Kids should always wash their hands after using the bathroom, before eating, after touching pets, after playing outside, after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose,” says Garcia. You’ll also want to remind older kids to wash their hands before preparing food, touching pet food and treats and taking out the garbage, she adds.
Given that handwashing is so crucial, but a total chore for kids, it’s important to make the whole thing as fun as possible, Lockwood says. She recommends teaching your child to sing a song during handwashing to help them make the process last for 20 seconds, like having them sing the Happy Birthday song twice. Your child can also sing their ABCs or the chorus from one of their favorite songs and belt it out twice, if they seem more excited about that, Posner says. If that doesn’t help, keeping an egg timer by the sink can create a fun challenge for them every time they wash up.
Getting fun, foamy soaps or soaps with scents your child likes can also help, recommends Posner. Your child may also love to have you “smell how clean their hands are” afterward, she says.
While you want to make the process as fun as possible, it’s also crucial to set a good example. “Be a good role model in washing your own hands,” Shubin says. And, if they can see you having fun if the process too, even better.