How many times a day do you say, or in my case, yell: “Go wash your hands!”
If you’re an elementary school teacher, probably 500 times daily. If you’re a parent of smallish children, at least 200 times.
I’m exaggerating, but if you’re not telling your kids to wash their freakin’ hands all the freakin’ time, you should be.
Because local infectious disease expert Dr. James Whitehouse, says: “Hand washing with plain soap and water, particularly after using the bathroom and before eating, is a simple and effective behavior that can significantly improve health and well-being.”
Dr. Whitehouse also says, “Wash your hands! Mom says so, and moms are always right.”
Kids, you should listen to your mom and to Dr. Whitehouse.
Parents, you can load your kids up on Vitamin C or Chinese herbs, make them choke down leafy greens, chase them around Jones park all afternoon and try to force them to sleep 10 hours a night – all of which will help keep them healthy. But the most important health task you can teach them is regular, good hand washing.
Turns out that the quick soap and rinse doesn’t cut it. Your kids (and you) are supposed to wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (which is a short time when they’re playing a video game, but a really long time when they’re standing in front of the sink).
You know all this already. After all, you’re shouting, “Go wash your hands” all day, too. But are there ways we can make hand washing fun, and keep ourselves from going hoarse?
Here are a few tips on how to turn your kid into Soaper Heroes:
1. Hand washing experts (I’m assuming these people are doctors – have you ever met anyone who claims to be a hand washing expert?) say you can measure your 20 seconds of washing time by singing your “ABC”s or the “Happy Birthday” song while scrubbing.
I recommend making up a unique hand washing song with your kids (because “Happy Birthday” is already the most over-sung tune in the world). My boy came up with this one, sung to the tune of “Row, row, row your boat”:
“Wash, wash, wash your hands
Make them very clean
Or you’ll get really sick
And then you’ll want to scream.”
2. In addition to silly songs, fun-shaped soaps or kid-friendly squirt bottles of bubble gum-scented soap (provided your kids don’t eat it) can help kids stay motivated when cleaning those grubby paws. It’s worth changing out soaps regularly or, at the least, moving them to different bathrooms in the house to keep your kids engaged with suds.
3. Make it easy for them. Make sure kids can reach the sink (use a sturdy stool or steps if they’re still rug rats). Being able to see themselves in the mirror helps. My boy will wash his hands for much longer if he can make faces at himself at the same time.
4. Be a good example. If you don’t wash your hands and you like to pick your nose, guess what? Your kids are going to do the same.
5. Teach clean toweling. Few of us have the space or the cash to install one of those automatic hands-free paper towel machines, which is too bad because hand towels can horde germs (plus my kids have the bad habit of wiping their mouths or noses on them, then hanging them back up). Paper towels aren’t ideal environmentally anyway, from both source and waste standpoints. So try to put out clean hand towels regularly.
6. Work fast to prevent dry skin and chapping. The down side of all this hand washing, particularly for my boy, is chapping. The combination of dry winter air and hand washing can turn his skin into alligator hide. If I don’t help him take care of it quickly, it cracks, bleeds, and sometimes becomes impetigo (kind of like leprosy but not as serious), which is a pain to deal with. So I keep pump bottles of fruity-smelling lotions next to our sinks and encourage the kids to pat them on after toweling. Before bed, I slather some thick and hearty lotion (stuff containing cocoa or shea butter seems to work well) on the boy’s small hands. He doesn’t like it, but tough luck.
7. If you don’t have access to soap and water, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are OK. Try not to use these unless you’re desperate (car trips, camping, etc.). Also, and this is important, check the label to make sure the alcohol content is at least 60 percent. If it’s less, the stuff is next to worthless, according to studies. You might want to check your kids’ hands for cuts or scratches before you slap on the hand sanitizer because alcohol on cuts stings like hell and you don’t want them to be terrified of gel (there’s enough scary stuff in the world already).
So wash, wash, wash your hands, and have a healthier winter. Your kids, like my kids, will probably still get a few viruses along the way. But parents can’t control everything. Though we keep on trying.
Anne Fitten “Edgy Mama” Glenn writes about a number of subjects, including parenting, at www.edgymama.com.