Print    Email
Decrease (-) Restore Default Increase (+)
  
KidsHealth
Bookmark and Share

A delicious mud pie, a good-luck rock, or a friendly frog are the types of goodies kids love to bring home. But these adorable gifts can also bring millions of germs with them.

Kids don't always listen when you tell them to wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom, or when they come inside from playing. But it's a message worth repeating — hand washing is by far the best way to prevent germs from spreading and to keep your kids from getting sick.hand washing

First Line of Defense Against Germs

Germs can be transmitted many ways, including:

  • touching dirty hands
  • changing dirty diapers
  • through contaminated water and food
  • through droplets released during a cough or a sneeze
  • via contaminated surfaces
  • through contact with a sick person's body fluids

When kids come into contact with germs, they can unknowingly become infected simply by touching their eyes, nose, or mouth. And once they're infected, it's usually just a matter of time before the whole family comes down with the same illness.

Good hand washing is the first line of defense against the spread of many illnesses, from the common cold to more serious illnesses such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, influenza, hepatitis A, and most types of infectious diarrhea.

Washing Hands Correctly

Here's how to scrub those germs away. Demonstrate this routine to your kids — or better yet, wash your hands together often so they learn how important this good habit is:

  1. Wash your hands in warm water. Make sure the water isn't too hot for little hands.
  2. Use soap and lather up for about 20 seconds (antibacterial soap isn't necessary — any soap will do). Make sure you get in between the fingers and under the nails where uninvited germs like to hang out. And don't forget the wrists!
  3. Rinse and dry well with a clean towel.

To minimize the germs passed around your family, make frequent hand washing a rule for everyone, especially:

  • before eating and cooking
  • after using the bathroom
  • after cleaning around the house
  • after touching animals, including family pets
  • before and after visiting or taking care of any sick friends or relatives
  • after blowing one's nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • after being outside (playing, gardening, walking the dog, etc.)

Don't underestimate the power of hand washing! The few seconds you spend at the sink could save you trips to the doctor's office.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: March 2011

 
Other Related KidsHealth Articles:
"Stomach Flu"
Having the "stomach flu" usually means spending a lot of time in the bathroom. Find out more in this article for kids.
Being Safe in the Kitchen
Cooking and baking are lots of fun - as long as you stay safe. Read this article for safety tips before you head into the kitchen.
Campylobacter Infections
These bacterial infections can cause diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever. Good hand-washing and food safety habits can prevent them.
Diarrhea
Most kids battle diarrhea from time to time, so it's important to know what to do to relieve and even prevent it.
Food Safety for Your Family
Why is food safety important? And how can you be sure your kitchen and the foods you prepare in it are safe?
Gastrointestinal Infections and Diarrhea
Nearly everybody gets diarrhea every once in a while, and it's usually caused by gastrointestinal infections. It's nothing to be embarrassed about. Read this article to learn more.
Hand Washing
Did you know that the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands? If you don't wash your hands frequently, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself.
How Can I Wash My Hands Without Spreading Germs?
Find out what the experts have to say.
MRSA
MRSA is a type of bacteria that the usual antibiotics can't tackle anymore. The good news is that there are some simple ways to protect yourself from being infected. Find out how.
What Are Germs?
You know they can hurt you, but what are these invisible creatures? Find out in this article for kids.
Why Do I Have to Wash My Hands After Using the Bathroom?
Wash after you flush! Find out why in this article for kids.
Why Do I Need to Wash My Hands?
Washing your hands is the best way to stop germs from spreading. Learn all about the best way to wash your hands in this article for kids.
Why Should I Care About Germs?
Germs are tiny organisms that can cause disease - and they're so small that they can creep into your system without you noticing. Find out how to protect yourself.
 
Related Resources:
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.