Wash your hands. Don’t pick your nose. Keep your hands to yourself. Cover your cough and sneeze. No doubt, these are things we’ve all told our children at one time or another. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the onset of flu season – when influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) peak – these reminders are more important than ever as we consider the health and safety of our children and families. Schools, daycares, sports programs, dance studios, and other children’s activity centers across the country continue to follow local, state, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations to help keep kids and staff safe. As a parent or caregiver, you can also do your part to help your child stay healthy and avoid spreading germs.
Getting children to practice good germ prevention can be a challenge; kids can’t see germs, so it’s easy to forget they’re everywhere! You may not be able to avoid illness altogether – but by helping your child cultivate healthy hygiene habits, you can reduce the risk of your child bringing home infections like colds, flu, COVID-19, and RSV. Here are four easy tips for teaching your child about healthy hygiene practices.
1. Emphasize the Importance of Handwashing
When you ask your child to wash their hands, how long do they scrub? Chances are, it’s about three seconds – which is just long enough to prove their hands are wet. However, the simple act of handwashing can go a long way in preventing illness. In fact, properly washing hands with soap and water can reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16%, according to the CDC. At home and school, it’s essential to teach kids proper handwashing techniques.
Practice hand washing at home and explain to your child why it's essential to wash their hands frequently, especially after using the restroom, coughing, sneezing, blowing noses, touching garbage, playing outside, adjusting a face mask, touching items in public spaces, handling a pet or animal, and before eating or handling food. Show children how to create a good lather with soap, and then scrub in between fingers, under fingernails, and on all parts of their hands up to the wrist for at least 20 seconds. To get in the habit of washing their hands long enough, have your kiddo sing “Happy Birthday” twice while they wash up.
When handwashing isn't available, suggest that your child use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Also, remind children about the importance of avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth, especially while at school or playing with other children.
Read more about the CDC’s recommendations for handwashing here.
2. Let the Cleaning Games Begin
Routine cleaning and disinfecting places where children eat, play, and learn is essential for minimizing the spread of harmful germs, or pathogens. Keep in mind that while cleaning is important for removing dirt, grime, and germs from surfaces, disinfecting is the only way to actually kill germs. To help ensure the killing of germs, use an EPA-registered disinfectant, like our all-in-one cleaner and disinfectant solution Vital Oxide, and follow the directions on the label. Vital Oxide is free from harsh chemicals, nauseous odors, harmful residues, and alarming safety warnings. It’s great for everyday use around the home and is gentle enough to use around children and babies. Vital Oxide is tested and proven effective to kill a wide range of bacteria and viruses, including SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus that causes COVID-19), Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), cold and flu viruses, and more.
It’s not easy for parents and caregivers to keep up with all the places around the home that need to be cleaned and disinfected daily. Instead, get the kids involved and make it fun! Put on your favorite cleaning playlist and enlist the help of an older child to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces (AKA germ hotspots) like light switches, fridge handles, sink faucet handles, doorknobs, tables, chairs, bathroom surfaces, and countertops. Talk to your child about other surfaces that might need germ-busting, and work together to make a room-by-room cleaning checklist. Also, consider sending children to school with a travel-size bottle of Vital Oxide for their desks, lockers, and tables.
Bonus: Vital Oxide is also a heavy-duty odor remover! Use it to clean and deodorize your child’s funky-smelling sports equipment, stinky sneakers, bad-smelling baby gear, and more.
3. Establish Personal Hygiene as an Everyday Responsibility
Talk to your kids about why personal hygiene is so important. Remember, hygiene isn’t just about maintaining appearances; it’s an active way to prevent the spread of harmful germs. What happens if you don’t brush your teeth or wash and change your clothes when they’re dirty?
Creating a chart that allows your child to check off tasks can help build healthy habits. This can also give them a sense of independence and help them learn to be responsible for themselves. Consider handing out a small treat (like a sticker) for younger kids once they’ve checked off one of their hygiene tasks. As a parent, if you have questions about when it’s appropriate to introduce these new responsibilities, talk to your child’s pediatrician.
4. Practice Respiratory Etiquette
As a parent or caregiver, you’ve probably said, “Cover your mouth!” hundreds of times after your child has sneezed or coughed. How many times until the habit sticks? Like the eternal mystery of the Tootsie Pop, this too remains a conundrum – but it’s crucial to keep dishing out the reminders.
The CDC recommends covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue to minimize the spread of germs. But if tissues aren’t available, teach children to cover their mouth with their elbow or upper sleeve rather than their hands or not covering at all. Remind kids to toss used tissues in a garbage can right away and wash their hands.
Younger children will often need frequent reminding and role modeling. If they cough into their hand or tissue, they should be directed to wash their hands. To help get them in the habit of covering their coughs and sneezes, try a respiratory etiquette game. Demonstrate coughing and sneezing in different ways – and be silly about it! Try coughing or sneezing into your hands, with a tissue, without a tissue, into the air, into your elbow, and have your child tell you which ways are right and wrong.
Ways to Make New Healthy Habits Stick
You may be nervous about your child practicing these new hygiene habits when they’re at school, on a playdate, or playing a sport, especially if they are little, but you may be pleasantly surprised at just how quickly your child adjusts to these new, healthy habits.
To help your child build these new habits and routines, try these techniques:
- Be a role model and continue to model good hygiene at home. By setting the standard, your little ones are more likely to catch on.
- Be patient; remember, practice makes perfect! Consistently and gently remind children about healthy habits when necessary.
- Be positive and give positive reinforcement when you notice children following good hygiene practices.
At The Ecology Works, we understand the need for a trustworthy and effective disinfectant that can be safely used around the home, school, childcare setting, and beyond. That’s precisely why we created Vital Oxide. Our innovative all-in-one solution has long been used to combat influenza and other pathogens in homes, schools, businesses, and more worldwide. Most recently, Vital Oxide has been used worldwide to help stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
With Vital Oxide, you no longer need to use bleach and other harsh chemicals that increase volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in your environment. Instead, you can have peace of mind knowing that you’re using a disinfectant that’s gentle enough to use in all areas of the home while still effectively eliminating harmful germs.