As parents we’ve all had those sick days---not ours, our children. You know those days---the whining and crying, nothing soothes them. If you’re lucky you might even get throwing up. This will be random but always at the most inopportune time and place.

Now, what if I told you there was a cheap, simple, easy way to decrease the likelihood of stomach bugs and colds? Would it be worth a small amount of time, effort and supplies? Would you want to hear more?

The answer is hand washing!

Keeping hands clean is one of the most important practices to keep sickness at bay and to avoid spreading dreaded germs to others. Germs enter the body when contaminated hands touch eyes, noses and mouths. Children touch zillions of surfaces and things, and young children put things in their mouth throughout the day. Contamination is almost inevitable. We can greatly reduce the likelihood of disease transfer, however, by teaching our kids to wash their hands.

Proper hand washing is a powerful routine even the youngest child can easily do. All you need is soap and running water. While the following steps, recommended by the American Pediatrics Association, may seem to be a lot, soon they'll become second nature.

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap. It's important to wet your hands before applying soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between the fingers and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Time that by humming the "ABC" song.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel or air dry (shake them).
  • Turn off the water using a clean towel.

Get kids in the habit of washing their hands by starting early. As soon as an infant is strong enough to hold his head up, he is ready for hand washing under running water. Make hand washing a family practice. Make up silly songs while lathering, name the germs as they go down the drain, do anything to make it engaging and fun!

Make it a practice to have your kids (and yourself!) wash their hands at all these times:

  • Before and after eating or preparing food
  • After using the bathroom or diaper changing
  • When coming in from outdoors
  • After touching pets
  • After coughing or sneezing
  • Anytime you think you might have touched a contaminated object or surface. When in doubt, wash your hands.

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs in most situations. If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers should be your second choice. Hand sanitizers are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

If a life without gastrointestinal projectiles sounds like a good goal for you, make good hand washing techniques a habit for your family.

Jeanne Labana, from Milwaukee, has been an educator for over 25 years.  With 4 grown children and 8 grandchildren she’s experienced it all!  She continues to teach parenting classes including Love and Logic, coach parents (PCI certified Parent Coach) and assist anyone touching the lives of children. 

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