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The Down and Dirty of Handwashing

Mom and daughter washing hands at sink

By now, we’re probably all pretty tired of repeated warnings about COVID-19 precautions. Wear your mask, stay at least six feet apart, and OH! Wash your hands! I know, I know! We all think we’re handwashing experts! Trust me, if you take less than 3 minutes to read this, you’ll learn something you didn’t know, and you’ll have a few cool resources to use with your kids.  

Your hands are probably icky

Brace yourselves for a difficult truth: There are between 2 and 10 million bacteria currently occupying your fingertips and elbows. These germs can survive for hours at a time, and they transfer easily to other surfaces, including food and drinks you eat.

Now for the really gross stuff: Nearly 80 percent of illness-causing germs are spread by hands. One in five people don’t wash their hands. Of those who do, only about thirty percent use soap. Think of that next time someone offers a handshake!

In short: It’s a world full of germs out there. So, what can you do to help reduce your risk of illness? It’s simple: Wash your hands! And pay attention to how you do it.

You can stop germs!

It’s easy to keep your hands clean and reduce your risk of illness by following good handwashing practices. Grab your kids, and check go over these steps.

Know when to wash  

Germs accumulate on your hands throughout the day. Be sure to wash your hands after using the bathroom, sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose. Also wash them before eating meals or snacks, and immediately upon coming inside.

Know how to wash  

Review the steps of handwashing for yourself and talk your child through them. You’ll probably have to do this many times before your child truly masters the skill reliably.

  • Wet your hands with clean water.
  • Turn off the tap and soap your hands.
  • Scrub for at least 20 seconds. Make sure it’s at least that long. Sing the “Happy Birthday” song (at a regular pace, not super-fast, as children often do) while you wash, or use of the simple tunes offered here.
  • Rinse your hands well!
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel or air-dry them.

Be a Hand-washing Hero!

Johns Hopkins offers this one-page printable to hang where kids can see it. Some kids really hate to take the time for handwashing, or the feeling of soap and water. To help build this healthy habit, give them lots of praise, or even a small reward. Sticker charts are a great way to reinforce this skill.

Keep hand sanitizer handy

Multiple studies have shown that washing with soap and water, when done properly, is the most effective method for clean hands. But hand sanitizer is the next best thing. Carry it with you to use as needed. Keep in mind that your hands need to dry fully before they are clean. Keep rubbing for 20-40 seconds.

Lather, rinse, repeat …

But in this case, I don’t mean repeat handwashing. A good 20 seconds of washing the front and back of your hands, palms, fingers, and in between is about all you’ll need.

Rather, I mean repeat your messages about handwashing.

Keep remembering to wash your hands and remind your children to wash theirs. As with so many things about parenting, you’ll probably start to feel like a “broken record”! But, if you can minimize the amount of illness in your family during any germ season, the effort will be worth it.

I like some of the visual materials offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here, but I love this fun, cartoon guidance from Elise Gravel. (During this face-mask-wearing season, her tips on washing hands before and after handling one’s mask seem particularly on point.) Sesame Street in Communities also provides some handouts and guidance from characters children know.

If you want to add a little fun, you can also buy some Glo Germ and a UV light. Glo Germ is a neat product that simulates the presence of real germs to ensure good hand-washing technique. Even if you don’t have access to a UV light, the product has a good how-to demonstration video.

This is the essential info you need to help you get through any germ season — now, or in the future!

Do your kids struggle with handwashing? What kinds of methods do you find helpful? Tell me in the comments below!

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