Handwashing for preschoolers

Continue to reinforce proper handwashing practices with preschoolers during cold and flu season.

Parents of preschoolers may wonder if their young child understands how to properly wash their hands. Children’s brains are like sponges and can absorb so much information. After working with many classrooms of preschoolers and having kids of my own, I have seen first-hand how well these young children can understand what germs are, how they make us sick and how to get rid of them. Do the kids need encouragement and reminders to wash properly? Yes. Can they do it on own their own? Definitely. The handwashing process is so simple, yet we all, preschoolers included, need to be reminded to wash our hands for 20 seconds to remove the bacteria.

Adults know that keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to help stop the spread of cold and flu germs all year long, especially now during flu season. It is critical this time of the year to keep your hands, as well as hands of children in your care, clean all day to help combat the spread of illness. We often don’t realize how many germs can be present on our hands, but need to remember that germs are everywhere and are shared easily. Handwashing is easy to do and can be done by people of all ages. Even at age 3, 4 or 5, young kids can be great handwashers and get rid of illness causing germs on their little hands.

Handwashing may seem like a simple task, and it really is, but we need to be sure proper handwashing techniques are being implemented. Michigan State University Extension recommends you wash your hands correctly and teach and reinforce the following steps to your preschooler:

  • Wet your hands with very warm, running water
  • Apply liquid soap
  • Scrub hands for 10 to 15 seconds, remembering to wash both front and back of hands, as well as in between fingers
  • Rinse thoroughly with running water
  • Dry hands with a single use paper towel or air dryer

The entire handwashing process should take at least 20 seconds from start to finish. When working with children on proper handwashing, encourage them to sing a song like the “ABC” song or “Happy Birthday,” and have them wash until they are done singing to ensure they are washing long enough to kill germs. Can it be messy when kids wash their hands? Definitely. Will these use lots of soap and lots of paper towels? Sometimes. Remember to explain your expectations to them for handwashing clearly, for example, teach them to use one pump or squirt of soap and one paper towel. This can help ease the messiness and waste.

You can help young children remember these key situations to wash their hands:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • After going to the bathroom
  • After blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing

Thorough handwashing is so simple to do and can be beneficial to everyone’s health. Be the best handwasher that you can be and help your preschoolers to do the same.

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