How To Get Your Kids To Wash Their Hands Correctly

As part of Northwell Health Physician Partners, we at Westchester Health would like to share the following article from Northwell Health concerning the COVID-19 outbreak.

In brief, the article discusses:

  • why handwashing helps prevent the spread of viruses and other germs
  • how parents can help their children wash their hands thoroughly and correctly
  • ways to make handwashing fun

The full article is reproduced below.

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How To Get Your Kids To Wash Their Hands—And Do It Correctly!

From stamping hands to singing songs, all the tricks and tips you need to ensure your little one’s hands are getting as clean as can be.

Ever since the first reports of the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. came out, the message has been loud and clear: Wash your hands!

It’s the number one way to help prevent the spread of viruses and other germs to keep everyone healthy. But as every parent knows, lots of kids aren’t washing their hands as often or as thoroughly as they should.

What can parents do to help their kids become champion hand washers? Two children’s health experts—Northwell Health pediatrician Cecilia Mak, DO, and Faye Brick, manager of the Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Program at Northwell’s Cohen Children’s Medical Center—share their best tips and advice.

Use age-appropriate language

Talking to your child about the importance of hand-washing is key, but it needs to be done in a developmentally appropriate way. “A child as young as 2 can be taught to recognize the importance of hand-washing—even if at this age the parents are the ones who are actually doing the washing for them,” says Brick. “What you’re doing is helping to instill a healthy habit.” Also, young children crave structure, so getting into the routine of washing hands is something that comes easily to them.

For school-aged children, using real information and concrete facts is key, says Mak. “You might say to your child, ‘It’s important to wash your hands because when we touch doorknobs and other surfaces, we can pick up germs, and then when we touch our face or we eat, those germs can get in our body and make us sick.’”

Brick says adolescents may feel like illnesses they hear about won’t happen to them, or they may be exposed to false or misleading information on social media, so it’s important to find out what your teen knows, and how they’re feeling. “You can say, ‘I know that some people don’t believe that this information is important or don’t take it seriously, and maybe you feel the same way. Do you feel that this doesn’t affect you? Will you let me explain why I feel differently?’” explains Brick.

Emphasize key hand-washing times

While the coronavirus crisis has many people running to the sink every five minutes, there’s no reason to go to that extreme, says Mak. “The most important times to wash hands are before eating, including snacks; after you use the bathroom; and after coming in from outside,” she says.

It’s also a good idea to wash hands after touching or petting an animal, and after sneezing or coughing, even if you’re using a tissue. When someone in the house is sick, then more frequent hand-washing is required. “And don’t forget to regularly wash the surfaces you’re touching all day long, including cellphones, remotes, and other electronic devices,” adds Mak.

Be thorough

We’ve all seen the videos being shared on social media and YouTube that show the right way to wash your hands. It means paying attention to all the different parts—palms, backs of hands, fingers, between the fingers, thumbs, and wrists.

“Kids tend to rub their palms a lot, and they often skip their wrists and thumbs, so you want to make sure your child rolls up their sleeves and doesn’t overlook those parts,” says Mak.

Make hand-washing fun

The standard advice is to wash for roughly 20 seconds, which is equivalent to the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. But feel free to expand your roster to other songs.

“Finding songs to sing while washing hands can be a fun, interactive family activity,” says Brick. “You can create a list, post it on the bathroom mirror and choose a new one every time.” Brick recommends The “ABCs” song; “Baby Shark” (good for washing between fingers); “10,000 hours” by Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber; Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill” and “Love on Top” by Beyoncé.

Mak says many of her patients choose songs from the Disney movies Frozen or Moana. “Any song that your child loves is great, as long as they’re washing for at least 20 seconds,” she says.

Another fun way to encourage hand-washing with young children is with the “stamp challenge,” says Brick. “Use a rubber stamp and ink to place a stamp on the back of your child’s hand, and then check at the end of the day to see if it’s gone,” she says. “If your child is engaging in proper and frequent hand-washing, it should be gone by bedtime.”

Stick to basics

While hand sanitizers are in short supply these days, using plain old soap and water is the best method for getting germs off your hands, says Mak. “Hand sanitizers are a good backup method for when you don’t have access to soap and water, but they’re not a replacement for soap and water and doing good hand-washing for 20 seconds,” she says.

There’s also no need to buy antibacterial soap products. “There have been studies showing that the antibacterial products are not any better at washing away germs than regular soap, and there’s also been some research indicating antibacterial soaps may help create antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” says Dr. Mak.

Learn what Westchester Health is doing to protect our patients and staff against COVID-19

We are here to provide the care you need, when you need it. To learn what smart precautions we’re taking to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and keep you safe, visit our Coronavirus Digital Resource Center. To know how we’re responding to the outbreak and what to do if you’re feeling sick, visit our FAQ page (frequently asked questions). Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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