This season’s flu and viruses have parents and teachers wondering how to raise their game regarding infection control. Washing your hands is one of the most important things anyone at any age can do to protect their health. But small children aren’t always cooperative. Getting them to wash their hands can be tough.
The families I work with know that I will not begin a session in their home, and especially that I won’t touch their child, without washing my hands first. Not only is this to protect them, it is to model good practice for the kids. Some children will ask me why I am washing my hands. I always answer them by naming two things familiar to them. I tell them that when I touch the outside of my car, my hands get dirty, and I don’t want to put dirt on our toys.
Cars and toys. Most kids over 2 know what those two things are, and they know that one is not so clean, and the other one shouldn’t have dirt on it. They get it.
But only a few parents insist that their child wash their hands before they begin working with me. Some children want to share my sanitizer spray, and if a parent agrees, I will show them how to use it.
Now that we are facing both a serious flu season and a new virus, it seems like a good idea to provide suggestions to help parents out with hand washing:
- Model good hand washing practices with a bit of drama. You have to be a bit of a ham, and remember that kids need simple but dramatic explanations for information to sink in. Something along the lines of “Oops, I FORGOT to wash my hands! I will be RIGHT back as soon as I find some soap and water. Do you know where it is? Raise your vocal inflection, and use some gestures like stretching out your fingers. Now say “That is SOOOOO much better. My hands feel good and clean”. Interrupt lots of things you are doing with a calm departure to wash your hands. But make sure they hear you say where you are going and why.
- Get soap that they like. Whether it smells good to them, has a character they love on the bottle, or is foamy or even tinted, soap they like is soap they will use. Liquid soap is so much easier for young children to handle than bar soap.
- Make it easy. They should be able to reach the water by using a spout extension, and possibly help you get the soap on their hands. Paper towels that pop out of their holder ready to dry hands are easy to hold and the best way to avoid spreading germs. Unless a cloth towel is changed very very frequently, it isn’t the cleanest choice. I treat a child whose mom is a cardio-thoracic surgeon. There is a hands-free soap dispenser and a box of pop-up towels in her main floor powder room. Enough said.
- Ask your partner and other people in the house if they have washed their hands when your child is paying attention to you and watching them respond. Young children don’t take notice of these practices of others unless you point them out. Hearing about who washed their hands, and hearing their enthusiastic replies, sends home the message that everyone washes their hands. It is what we ALL do.
- Spin it positively. Some children really become frightened if you message things about getting sick. The message is to stay healthy. Keep it that way.
- Make a habit of it. Infection control staff know that making actions into habits is the best way to ensure safety. Create new rules about washing hands throughout the day, and gently insist on them. They will become habits. Good ones.