Hand Washing for Kids
Handwashing is a vital skill for children with cancer to learn.
Our hands are the most exposed part of the body and interact with more germs each hour than we breathe in a whole day. Those invisible microbes cause some of the most dangerous diseases in children, especially for children with cancer. Handwashing is the best defence
Children need to wash their hands whenever they may come into contact with germs, especially before or after certain activities.
Encourage thorough handwashing at all the following times:
- After waking up
- Before a meal or snack
- After a meal or snack
- After playing outside
- After crafting activities
- After sand or water play
- After playing with animals
- After using public transport
- After playing any kind of sport
- After blowing or touching their nose
- After going to the toilet
- Before going to bed
How Should Children Wash Their Hands?
Here is a fun kid-friendly sung explanation of the correct handwashing technique, from NHS England.
How Should I Wash My Baby’s Hands?
Washing a baby’s hands is very different from handwashing for older children. Their skin is very delicate, especially so for children receiving certain types of cancer treatment. The following technique is best to care for sensitive baby hands.
- Clean and dampen your baby’s hand with a warm, wet towel.
- Gently lather baby formula soap onto both hands, covering all areas.
- Clean the soap off using a fresh, warm towel.
- Soak both hands in a bowl of lukewarm water.
- Wipe both hands with a soft, dry cloth or towel.
How Do I Teach My Child to Wash Their Hands?
First, follow the safety points and general guidance in this brief video.
Some children may resist washing their hands, if they feel an unnecessary rule or restriction is being imposed on them. Educating children about the reasons for handwashing, and making the learning process a game can help them feel excited about their hygiene. You can transform this routine activity into a fun sensory experience with special soaps, bubbles and happy songs.
Teach By Example
Make a point of drawing your child’s attention to your action each time you wash your hands, and describe what you are doing at each stage in the process. Explain each time why you are handwashing, or ask your child if they can explain why you are doing it – their response will establish how much they have remembered and understood.
Take Time to Teach
As with any other skill, your child needs time to learn good hand hygiene. Practice when you are both relaxed and have plenty of time to spend on each step of the process. The more fun you can have with the learning experience, the more memorable and effective the lesson will be for your child.
Break It Down Into Steps
Explain to your child about germs and the purpose of good hand hygiene to prevent germs spreading. Children are more likely to follow directions when they clearly understand why they are being asked to do something, and that it helps protect themselves and the people they love. You can find numerous games and science-based activities online to teach young children about how germs spread.
This picture book teaches children about COVID-19 and the importance of handwashing to prevent transmission.
Explain each step of the handwashing process in simple terms. Breaking it down into individual steps helps children understand and remember what they need to do in sequence, and feel more confident with the actions.
Use online educational videos to teach about handwashing. Show your child one of the videos on this page, or search YouTube or other video sharing sites for age-appropriate resources that teach hand hygiene in a fun way.
Make Your Own Soap
Children are more likely to remember the steps of a new skill and complete the activity when they feel personally invested in it. Making their own soap is one way in which children can become emotionally connected with the act of handwashing – choosing the scent and colour for the soap, and moulding it into a unique shape.
Here is a cool soap-making activity for you to do together at home:
You Will Need:
- Large bowl
- 3 Cups of Soap Flakes (Ivory Snow is an example)
- 1 to 1-1/2 cups water
- Food coloring
- Vegetable oil
- A few drops of essential oil (such as lavender)
- Mix the soap flakes with the water in a large bowl. Add the water slowly so that the mixture is the consistency of play dough.
- Add a few drops of food coloring.
- Add a few drops of lavender oil.
- Coat each child’s hands with a small amount of vegetable oil and allow them to manipulate the mixture with their hands into fun shapes or into moulds
- Allow the soap shapes to dry overnight.
NOTE – if you don’t have access to boxed soap flakes, you can grate any bar of soap using a cheese grater, then allow kids to mix, shape and mould the soap flakes you grated.
Sing While Washing
Make the process of washing hands a musical experience! An interactive song will motivate them to sing along while washing their hands, making it a fun and entertaining aspect of their day.
Sing a popular song that lasts around 20 seconds, or help your child make up their own words to fit the tune. Examples are the Alphabet Song, “Happy Birthday” (sung twice), and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Teach your child the proper technique for handwashing, and explain that they have finished washing when the song is over.
This wonderful video shows a father and his son having fun together as the son learns about handwashing with the help of his favourite song – Baby Shark.
Have a “Gel Friend” or “A Bac Buddy”
Encourage your child to have a bottle of hand sanitizer gel or a pack of antibacterial wipes with them at all times, in their pocket or bag. Help your child to create a story around the item as their special friend/buddy who is always ready to help them chase away the germs. Teach them how to use sanitizer gel or wipes correctly, letting their hands dry for the correct length of time (according to pack instructions) before touching anything.
Rewarding children for correct handwashing technique or remembering to wash up independently, can be a huge motivator. Recognition builds confidence and excitement about the activity.
Decide what the reward will be (e.g. stickers on a chart, a treat, additional pocket money), and the circumstances in which you will reward. Are you aiming for a particular number of handwashes? Supported, independent, or completely unprompted washing? Before or after a particular activity? At the end of the day, if successful, give the child their reward, and celebrate their success.
Things to Avoid
Teaching a child any new skill or habit can be challenging. Teaching about hygiene can be particularly stressful if there is an immediate health concern in the family. Remember these three things when teaching young children to wash their hands.
Don’t Wash Their Hands
Children learn a skill best when they do the actions themselves, which requires them to actively engage with each step, and think about how to do it on their own. Supporting them with reminders is perfectly acceptable, but the faster children learn independent handwashing, the sooner they will be able to take the initiative to protect themselves against potentially dangerous germs.
Children make new discoveries every day – they have so much going on in their busy evolving brains, it’s hardly surprising they forget to do things, and sometimes they need reminders to slow down and do the mundane activities. If your child forgets to wash their hands, gently remind them about the importance of handwashing. Help them identify a way to remember next time, such as creating a sign on the door together, or making their own soap.
If your child refuses to wash their hands, wait until you are both calm, then have a quiet chat to find out why they didn’t want to wash their hands. You may discover there is a simple reason you can resolve together. For example, they may not like the scent of the soap, or the water may be too hot. Explore together how you can make handwashing more enjoyable. Use the activities above as a starting point.
Don’t lose your patience with your child, or yourself. It takes young children time to learn a new skill. Remember that they learn best through play they enjoy. You will achieve the best results when you take a playfully, creative approach to teaching this skill, with your child’s individual personality and learning style in mind.