For many families and children in Upstate New York, the first day of The Great New York State Fair also begins the countdown to the first day of school. The first days of school can mean reconnecting with favorite teachers, making new friends and creating some new healthy habits. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics parenting website www.healthychildren.org “hand washing may be the single most important act you and your child have for disease prevention.”
Why do I have to wash my hands so much?
Hand washing can stop the spread of germs. As early as possible, get your children into the habit of hand washing often and thoroughly. All school aged children are exposed to germs – opening door handles, moving chairs, reading books, working at desk tops, using bus handles to climb aboard, sliding into the bus seats, typing or playing keyboards, using learning toys, playing with sports equipment, touching a playmate, or sharing toys. The whole process of infection can happen in seconds and cause an illness that can last for days, weeks, or even longer. The key is to encourage your child to wash her hands throughout the day. For example, help her or remind her to wash her hands:
• Before rubbing her eyes
• Before touching her nose
• Before placing her fingers in her mouth
• Before eating – including snacks
• After a trip to the bathroom
• Whenever she comes in from playing outdoors
• After touching an animal like a family pet
• After sneezing or coughing if she covers her mouth
Studies on hand washing in public restrooms show that most people don’t have very good hygiene habits. “Hand washing” may mean just a quick splash of water and perhaps a squirt of soap, but not nearly enough to get their hands clean.
How do I wash my hands?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following steps to washing your hands well:
• Wet your child’s hands.
• Apply clean bar soap or liquid soap to the hands, and then place the bar on a rack where it can drain before the next hand washing.
• Rub the hands vigorously together. Scrub every surface completely.
• Keep rubbing and scrubbing for 10 to 15 seconds to effectively remove the germs. Pick a song that lasts for 15 seconds and sing it while you wash. Two verses of “Happy Birthday,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” will teach your child how short 15 seconds can be. Frequently, kindergarten and first grade teachers will have a special hand washing song. Your child can teach it to you child as they wash their hands at home. Encourage your child to wash her hands not only at home, but also at school, at friends’ homes, and everywhere else. This is an important habit for her to get into, and hopefully one that is hard to break!
• Rinse the hands completely, and then dry them.
What kind of soap?
Drugstore shelves are full of antibacterial soaps, but studies have shown antibacterial products are no better at washing away dirt and germs than regular soap. Some infectious disease experts have even suggested that by using antibacterial soaps, you may actually kill off normal bacteria and increase the chances that resistant bacteria may grow.
Is waterless washing just as good as soap and water washing?
The best solution is to wash your child’s hands with warm water and ordinary soap that does not contain antibacterial substances (e.g., triclosan). When your child’s hands are visibly dirty, regular use of soap and water is better than using waterless, alcohol-based soaps, gels, rinses, and hand rubs. However, when there is no sink available (e.g., the car), hand rubs can be a useful alternative.
Story time and healthy habits: A few books that can help answer your child’s questions about germs and why washing with soap and water is so important to good health.
Whiffy Wilson: The Wolf Who Wouldn’t Wash by C. Hart and L. Lord 2014; preschool to kindergarten. There was a little wolf called Whiffy Wilson who never brushed his hair. He never washed his paws or face, or changed his underwear. Will anyone be able to persuade Whiffy Wilson to change his gross ways for something far less stinky?
Germs! By M.Howard and C. Stimpson 2012; K-3rd grade. Sam, a young germ, is conscripted to fight in the Germ Army. What is the ultimate goal of the germ monarch, Queen Bacteria? To make the boy in striped pajamas sick. When he fails to wash his hands one day after using the toliet, the germs seize their opportunity to attack, only to be met with the friendly Antibody Army led by King Antibod. This active and dynamic book with giant germs and toilets has a funny story for a serious message – wash your hands to stay healthy!
Dirty Bertie: Germs by D. Roberts and A. Macdonald 2012 1st to 3rd grade. On Monday, Suzy, Dirty Bertie’s sister, stays home from school with the chickenpox. She will have to stay home all week. Bertie wants to stay home too. Bertie uses his sister’s pink toothbrush and drinks from her glass in try to catch her germ but with no luck. Until Saturday morning.
Source material on health issues from Healthy Children.org sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics www.healthychildren.org
Books reviewed and recommended by Mary Laverty Golisano Children’s Hospital Family Resources and Services coordinator for the Family Resource Center in GCH.