Handwashing for children

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

A child washing their hands at a sink.
Photo: iStock/Guiliano Fornasar.

October 15 each year marks Global Handwashing Day. But no matter what the date, parents and childcare providers may wonder if their young child can properly wash their hands. Young children can learn so much with encouragement, observation of good role models and positive reinforcement, and they can learn about germs, how they make us sick and how to get rid of them. 

Handwashing stops the spread of cold and flu germs all year long, especially during flu season. It is critical to keep your hands, as well as hands of children in your care, clean all day to help combat the spread of illness in your childcare homes and centers. We may not realize how many germs can be present on our hands but need to remember that germs are everywhere and are shared very easily. Handwashing is a must for everyone; no matter the age.  Even at the young age of three, four or five, children can learn to and practice proper handwashing to reduce the number of illness causing germs on their little hands.

Handwashing may seem like a simple task but make sure proper techniques are being implemented. Michigan State University Extension recommends you wash your hands correctly and teach and reinforce the following steps to the children in your care:

  • Wet your hands with very warm, running water.
  • Apply liquid soap.
  • Scrub hands for at least 20 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 they 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 lessen the messiness and waste.  You can help the children you care for to remember these key times to wash their hands:

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

Handwashing is beneficial to everyone’s health. Learn how to be a good role model for the children you care for and help them be the best handwasher they can be.

Did you find this article useful?