Cleaning children's hands

“Have you washed your hands?”

How many times have you said that to your children today? Probably a lot.

Hand washing is one of the most important disease preventative skills you can teach your children. Teaching kids about hand washing is not just important to keep them healthier in childhood but all through life.

Because of their age, children have less developed immune systems for fighting diseases and infections. Children are more likely to get cuts, scrapes and dirty hands from exploring the world around them, making them more susceptible to becoming infected with germs and disease. It’s easy for germs that end up on their hands to get into their mouth. Hand washing is one of the simplest and best ways to stop germs from spreading, but it’s not done as often as it should be.

Children learn by seeing and doing rather than just listening, so teaching them about hand washing should be interactive and fun. Have your child watch you or another child wash their hands while you talk about what to do. Then have your child repeat the process while you explain the basic steps again.

Talk about why:
Germs on our hands are invisible to our eyes. Explain how hand washing helps remove germs that can make them sick.

Talk about when:
What is obvious to adults isn’t always obvious to kids. Children may not know when they need to wash their hands. Encourage them to wash

  • At the start and end of each meal time
  • After using the toilet
  • After playing outside
  • After blowing their nose or sneezing
  • After handling pets

Talk about how:
Bring your child into the bathroom.

Ensure they can reach the taps and the sink. If the sink is too high, invest in a step stool. Make sure the soap is within arms’ reach. This will encourage your child’s independence with hand washing.

Using warm water, wet hands and apply soap. Using soap enables a good lather to be worked up so germs can be easily removed. Washing both the inside of the hands (palms) as well as the outside (backs) and between the fingers is important.  Get them to clean around and behind their nails too.

Hands should be washed for 20 seconds then rinsed clean. It’s important to make sure all the soap and bubbles have been removed. Singing a well known song will make children’s hand washing enjoyable and less of a chore and help them to do it for the correct amount of time. Either the ‘Alphabet song’ or ‘This is the way we wash our hands’ if sung twice, take around 20 seconds. It’s lots more fun if parents sing along too! Ensure children thoroughly dry their hands using a clean towel after washing.

Make it fun

  •  A fancy cake of soap can be an attractive addition to children’s hand washing activities. Try funny fruit-smelling soaps or ones that features their favorite characters.
  •  Keep a hand washing chart and encourage your child to see how many squares they can fill.

Make a homemade poster or download one that shows the steps for hand washing. Make a game out of following each step eg. “What do we do for step one? What do we do now?” Or be a little bit silly and ask your child “First we dry our hands – right?”

While children need to learn the skill of hand washing it is not only important for them! Parents and care givers need to be equally careful to wash their hands regularly before preparing food (including baby bottles) and before and after changing nappies, after cleaning up vomit or faeces or blood, after wiping children’s noses or after handling rubbish. Kids learn best when someone sets a good example. By washing your own hands in front of your children, you not only show them the proper technique, but that you think the task is an important and necessary one.

Where can I find out more?

Clean Hands All Hands – Information for caregivers of children