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How to Make Hand Washing into a Habit

How to Make Hand Washing into a Habit

Toddlers are veritable germ magnets. Little hands go into places we adults would never consider: inside trash cans, underneath dusty furniture, all over the floors of public spaces and even the toilet! And then those exploring hands often go straight into their mouths.

Good hygiene is important to maintaining good health and preventing the spread of disease, and hand-washing is the most basic, and arguably the most important, self-cleaning ritual we can teach a young child. How do we make them want to do it?

Tips and Tricks

Toddlers aren't yet jaded — they're wired to love the feeling of mastering new skills. They are ever so slowly learning how to take care of themselves, and hand-washing is a great place for them to start. Circle of Moms member Jennifer M. shared an entertaining and educational music video about hand-washing in a discussion thread on the Toddler Moms group. In the video, which you can show your toddler, cartoon characters promote hand-washing before meals and after going to the bathroom, rocking out as they watch the soapy, dirty water vanish down the drain ("Pump the pump and wash the germs go down the drain.")


Giving toddlers some control over the ritual is also helpful. Buy your child her own soap, perhaps even in a pump dispenser she can use without your help. Once she chooses to put soap on her hands, she'll likely want to wash it off herself, without your urging. Then, the hand-washing cycle begins naturally — your child will likely start asking to do it just for the fun of it.

As Marcy H. describes though, holding your toddler at the sink so that she can reach the water can be awkward and uncomfortable for both of you. Mom-of-four Rebekah S. suggests a step-stool, which will help her stand there long enough to wash for 30 seconds continuously, which it how long it takes to actually kill the germs. To help kids remember to wash that long, Jenn H. has her three kids sing the alphabet song or Happy Birthday from start to finish as they wash.

Be a Good Role Model

Heather S. believes in "Example, example, example." And mom-of-two Donna N. modeled hand washing as a regular habit by teaching her kids to do it after every meal, starting at the age of eight months: "I made a habit of hand-washing...from the time they started self-feeding... I used a wipe and would... sing a little song I made up."

Does Your Toddler Like Water?

Heather S. also points out that good hand washing habits are easier to establish with a child who loves to play with water, as "it's natural for him to want to get his hands wet." My son falls into this group, but I've found that I have to be careful to distinguish between water play and actual hand-washing. The play could go on forever, right? So now we talk about hand washing in terms of getting ready for something: dinner, getting dressed (after potty), or coming home from pre-school. This helps him understand that hand-washing is a transition to some other activity, not an end in itself.

If on the other hand (sorry about the pun), your child is extremely resistant to washing her hands, Circle of Moms member Julie R. recommends the soap pumps from Healthy Hands, which integrate a musical timer that motivates kids to wash properly through popular characters, songs, and lights.

Choose Your Battles

Don't expect success 100 percent of the time. Pick your battles: focus on the times when your child has been out in public spaces with others, has been around someone who's sick, or when her hands are visibly filthy. Don't push it as hard when you think she's less likely to have been exposed to germs. These times are important, too, but consistent habits will develop as your child gets older and sees more people modeling this behavior.

Image Source: xelusionx via Flickr/Creative Commons

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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