Handwashing helps kids stay healthy

(Provided photo)

With viruses like RSV, influenza, and COVID in abundance this winter, parents have been asking for the best recommendation to keep their children healthy.

Believe it or not, I always answer handwashing. That’s right: handwashing.

In fact, let me give everyone a hand in understanding why this is such an important thing to do.

Why handwashingis so effective

Your child is exposed to all kinds of germs throughout the day. When they touch a playmate, share toys, pet their dog or cat, and if their hands with these germs touch their eyes, nose, or mouth, an infection can result that can last for days, weeks, or even longer.

With handwashing, the spread of these germs can stop and your child has a better chance of remaining healthy!

The proper way to wash hands

¯ If you are using the soap and water method to wash your child’s hands, you need to wash or lather up their hands for at least 20 seconds or the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song nice and slow or sing it through twice if you tend to sing it fast.

¯ Make sure to rub and scrub between the fingers, under fingernails, and on both sides of the hands and wrists while you sing.

¯ Rinse and then dry their hands with a clean towel, ideally a disposable one, and if possible use a paper towel to turn off the faucet.

¯ If multiple children need to wash their hands at once, don’t use the same damp cloth or hand towel to wash or dry everyone’s hands or germs will spread from one child to another.

¯ In fact, if lots of children need their hands washed, this may be a good time to consider supervised use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead. This can be a safe approach if used under adult supervision so children don’t lick or drink the potentially dangerous chemicals in the sanitizer.

¯ If your child does have a cold — in addition to good handwashing — don’t forget to remind them to cough or sneeze onto their sleeve and throw away any tissues they use when they are done using them.

¯ How often should a child wash his or her hands? Certainly before meals, after using the bathroom, when coming in from outdoors, after playing with the family pet, after sneezing, coughing, or being with someone else who is doing the same thing.

Hopefully, tips like these will wash away any doubt you may have about the importance of stressing good handwashing for everyone in your family.

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Lewis First, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.


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