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Teaching Kids to Wash Their Hands

How can you get your kids into the handwashing habit? We’ve got a few tips for you below.

Share how handwashing helps

Why is it important to wash your hands? Explain to your children that handwashing helps prevent them from getting sick and making other people sick. No one likes to be sick, or get someone else sick. Handwashing can help prevent these from happening as often.

When to wash

Tell your child to wash his or her hands before:

  • Eating

  • Touching his or her mouth, eyes, or nose

  • Touching a cut or scrape

And after:

  • Going to the bathroom

  • Playing with pets or other animals

  • Touching pet food or treats

  • Being on playground equipment

  • Being close to a person who is sick

  • Touching a dirty diaper

  • Touching garbage

4 steps to clean hands

Here are 4 easy steps to clean hands:

  1. Get wet and soapy. Get your hands wet in clean water. Put soap on your hands and make suds.

  2. Rub. Rub rub rub your soapy hands together long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” in your head twice. Clean your palms, the back of your hands, and between your fingers. Don’t forget to clean under your nails. Nails can trap dirt and germs.

  3. Rinse. Hold your hands under clean, running water. Rub them to rinse them fully.

  4. Shake and dry. Shake your hands a few times, then dry them with a clean towel or hand dryer. Done!

Can’t reach the sink?

If your child is small, hold him or her to help him reach the sink. If your child can stand, use a safety step to boost him or her up to the faucet.

If your child is too heavy to lift and there’s no step nearby, wipe his or her hands with a damp and soapy paper towel. Use another clean, wet paper towel to rinse soap off the hands. Dry the hands with a third clean paper towel. Wash your own hands after helping your child.

When to reach for hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer doesn’t work well when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. Soap and water are best because they remove dirt, grease, and germs fully. But hand sanitizer is a good backup when you can’t get to soap and water. Use an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Tell your child to:                                                                                                                        

  1. Squirt. Put a quarter-sized blob of hand sanitizer into a palm.

  2. Rub. Rub his or her hands–front and back and between fingers--until they’re dry. Done!

Tips for success

  • Lead by example. Make sure to practice what you preach. Wash your hands before eating or cooking a meal, after using the bathroom, and after working or playing with your hands.

  • Be patient. It takes time for a child to get into the habit of handwashing, and do it properly. Make sure to give help when needed.

  • Remind as often as needed. Children will wash their hands if dirt is obvious, like mud or finger paint. They will need to be reminded to wash away germs that can’t be seen.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Cunningham, Louise, RN
  • Holloway, Beth, RN, MEd