Germs and kids go hand-in-hand. These microscopic sickness carriers are quick to latch on to your little ones at school, in public places, while playing outside, and even at home. And getting your kids to practice good germ prevention is a challenge—they can’t see germs, so it’s easy to forget they’re everywhere.
Fortunately, there are a few ways you can help even young children understand the unhealthy power of germs. Start by explaining the connection between germs and illness. If kids understand that germs can make them feel yucky and cause them to miss their favorite activities, they may be more likely to take precautions. Also point out that if they spread germs to others, their friends and family could become sick too.
These tips will help you raise germ awareness, so your children will actively work at staying healthier.
Tip #1: Spread “germs” on purpose
For kids, seeing is believing. You can show them exactly how germs spread with the glitter trick: just add some glitter to hand sanitizer, have one child use it, and then have everyone shake hands with everyone else.
This demonstrates how easily germs spread from person to person with simple contact. You can even use different hand-shaking sequences—such as having the child who used the glitter sanitizer shake hands with someone, and that person shake with someone else, illustrating that you can catch germs even if you don’t have contact with the original germ carrier.
Tip #2: End the bathroom “rinse-and-dash”
When you say “wash your hands” to your child, how long does the water run in the sink? Chances are, it’s about five seconds—just long enough to prove their hands are wet.
However, according to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), hand washing properly with soap and water is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of germs and keep kids from getting sick. At home and at school, it’s essential to teach children proper hand washing techniques.
- When to Wash: Hand washing is most important after using the bathroom, blowing noses, coughing, sneezing, playing outside, touching used or other contaminated surfaces, handling a pet or animal, touching garbage, and before eating or handling food. Hand washing is also encouraged more frequently when a home or classroom has been exposed to illness.
- How to Wash: Show kids how to create a lather and then scrub in between fingers, under fingernails, and on both sides of their hands for at least 20 seconds. A good rule of thumb is to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice before rinsing and drying.
- Is Sanitizer Okay? If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers (containing at least 60 percent alcohol) can be used as a substitute, although they may not be as effective in eliminating all dirt and germs.
Tip #3: Let the cleaning games begin
General cleaning and disinfecting for the places where kids play, eat, and learn is vital for minimizing the spread of germs. But remember: while cleaning is important for physically removing dirt and germs from objects or surfaces, disinfecting is the only way to actually kill germs. You can help to ensure the killing of germs by using EPA-registered disinfectants and following the instructions on the label.
It’s not easy for parents to keep up with all the places that need disinfecting—but you can enlist your children’s enthusiastic help with disinfecting wipes. These quick, convenient tools remove illness-causing germs in the classroom, playroom, kitchen, and other areas, and can actually make cleaning fun.
Make wiping down a daily household event. Have kids focus on wiping frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, light switches, sink faucet handles, and even tables and chairs. You can also send each child to school with a travel pack of disinfecting wipes for their desks and tables.
Tip #4: Catch coughs and seize sneezes
As a parent, you’ve probably heard yourself say, “Cover your mouth!” hundreds of times after someone coughs or sneezes. How many times until it sticks? The answer is a mystery—but it’s important to keep dishing out the reminders.
To minimize the spread of germs, the CDC recommends covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue. If a tissue isn’t available, teach kids to cover with their upper sleeve or elbow rather than their hands. Used tissues should be placed in a wastebasket right away, and should never be placed on a surface.
With younger children, you can make proper respiratory etiquette a game. Demonstrate a bunch of different coughs and sneezes—with tissue, without tissue, into your hands, into the air, into your sleeve—and have your child tell you which ways are right and wrong.
For older kids…well, just keep reminding them. They’ll remember eventually.