How to Get Your Kids to *Really* Wash Their Hands
This is a guest blog post written by Amy Leinbach, a mother, inventor, and former special educator living in Southern California. She is the founder of Big Bee, Little Bee, a company that creates innovative eco-friendly products that enable families to decrease their use of disposable products and increase their use of reusable counterparts.
You’ve modeled good hand washing practices for your little one countless times. You’ve also washed their hands for them time and time again. But even though they’ve been through the process all those times, most kids don’t just take it from there.
And that's okay! In these uncertain pandemic times, it's more important than ever to get your kids washing well, so we'll share some tips on how to change their poor washing behavior and get them to really scrub 'em (and have fun while doing it :).
Why hand-washing matters
To your child, the idea of hand-washing may seem totally silly (and a lot more fun to just play with the water); but when you start to teach them about germs, it helps give them some perspective.
Let them know that the reason you want them to wash is because it will keep them healthy. Tell them that there are some teeny tiny germs so small you can't see them that are very bad. These germs can make them (and others around them) very sick and so we want to wash them away in the water. Because getting sick isn't fun. Nobody wants to feel like they aren't at their best; and even worse, miss out on fun because they don't want to get others around them sick.
It's that simple. Hand-washing keeps them safe and healthy and that's why we want them to learn to master it on their own! And the "big kids" all do it themselves, so there's a carrot to lean on if all else fails and they need some encouragement.
Start with when to wash
As your toddler begins potty training, it's more important than ever to teach them when it's important to wash their hands.
Some common times the CDC recommends hand-washing include:
- After using the restroom
- Before eating a snack, lunch, or dinner
- After playing with pets bugs, dirt or other animals
- Returning from the playground
- If they come into contact with a pull-up, dirty diaper or used wipes
- Touching trash or the trash can itself
- After being around anyone sick
- When they are done playing with sticky or messy things like slime, play dough or glue
- After blowing their nose, coughing, picking their nose or sneezing (Source, CDC)
Talk through it together
If your toddler is just getting started using the sink on their own, or if you're still washing their hands for them, it's the perfect time to start teaching!
"A child must first learn fundamental skills before they can acquire speed, increased confidence, and mastery. It is through repetition that possibility becomes ability." (Source Montessori.au)
To begin, try narrating each step very specifically as you wash their hands for them, then continue that same narration as they begin to do it themselves.
“First we turn on the water, then we wet our hands,” and so on. Even if your child isn't quite verbal yet, they are still learning through repetition and the more you talk about what you're doing. The more you talk about it, the more they will absorb in their tiny, yet powerful toddler minds.
Once they’ve gone through it verbally many times, a step-by-step guide posted by the sink can be a great reminder. This guide can have pictures representing the steps for younger kids, words for older kids, or both.
Feel free to download and print this chart to use in your home or school!
Ways to make it fun
Choose different colors and/or scents
You know that plain old white bar of soap? Not super enticing, right? Bright, decorative bar soaps are much more fun to reach for. Fruity scented liquid soap in their favorite color can be pretty attractive, and foam pump soaps are always a hit. You can even switch some of these options up from time to time to keep things fresh.
Sing a song while you wash
It’s often suggested that kids sing “Happy Birthday” while they’re washing to ensure they wash for a sufficient amount of time. But any song would get stale if you sang it multiple times a day for months! So why not shake things up a bit?
Let them pick their favorite song, a seasonal tune, or try picking a song of the week. Is your child just learning the alphabet or counting to 30? This could be a great time to practice.
Create characters or villains
Talk about those icky germs on all the surfaces they touch and discuss why soap is their friend. Make the conversation fun by personifying the germs and the soap.
Inspire with artwork
You can even incorporate art to up the fun factor! We’ve created some printable coloring pages for you to get things rolling. If you've got a budding artist in your home, download the PDF below to incorporate the concept of washing and germs into your art or coloring time together.
Persistence is key!
If one of these tips helped your child begin to make hand washing a habit- hooray! But if not, we want to remind you that it takes time to build a habit and to hang in there before giving up. This isn't a one and done method.
Building the skills for good hygiene in early childhood is the best thing you can do for reducing the risk of illness and infection for your child. Helping your child learn these habits will eventually become easier and easier as your baby grows up. So give them time to learn, try, and do a little bit of everything "all by themselves".
Do you struggle with teaching your kids to wash their hands? Let other parents know what's worked (or not worked) for you in the comments below!
Amy Leinbach is a mother, inventor, voice actor, and former special educator living in in Southern California. She is the founder of Big Bee, Little Bee, a company that creates innovative eco-friendly products that enable families to decrease their use of disposable products and increase their use of reusable counterparts. Her company believes that the LITTLE changes in our homes can lead to BIG changes in our world! Shop now and follow Big Bee, Little Bee on Instagram.