Hand Washing for Kids – 5 Tips for Parents

Personal Hygiene for Kids - 5 Tips for Parents

The onset of COVID-19 may have caused shortages in disinfectants, hand sanitizers, and paper products, but hand washing is something that our communities have seen no lack of in recent times. Since government resources have cited this as one of the best ways to protect yourself from COVID, the majority of adults have diligently added this to their daily hygiene routines. However, this concept is not quite as simple for children. Most kids have difficulty understanding how to properly wash their hands and even why frequent hand washing is important. 

Hand washing can prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related illnesses along with 1 in 5 respiratory conditions. Therefore, any adults who interact with children should be prepared to educate children about the measures they can take to keep themselves safe and germ-free.

In this article, I’ll provide you with 5 tips on how to get your kids to effectively wash their hands.

1) Break it down step-by-step

Kids deal well with information that is short, clear, and easy to understand. Therefore, use action words to help them remember the major steps involved. Tell your kid to wet, lather, scrub, rinse, and dry.

Kids learn easier and have more fun if they make it into a song or do a dance to help them remember what to do. You can also make this part more entertaining by getting scented soaps, writing notes in marker on the bathroom mirror, and turning it into a game.

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2) Model good behavior

Kids lead by example. The best way to make hand washing a regular practice is by having them observe each time you wash your hands. Children need to understand the importance of hand washing and ensure that it becomes an intuitive part of their care routine. You may also place notes around the house (on the fridge, by sinks in the house, by their closet) and remind them to keep their hands away from their nose, mouth, and eyes.

Remind your kids to wash their hands before:

  • Touching food or eating.
  • Taking medication.
  • Touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.
  • Playing in water.

Also, help them understand that it is important to wash their hands after:

  • Touching food or eating.
  • Using the toilet.
  • Playing in water, mud, dirt, sand, or anything outside materials.
  • Unpacking groceries or items you just brought home.
  • Wiping or blowing your nose.
  • Sneezing or coughing into their hands.
  • Playing outside.
  • Touching or playing with pets or animals.
  • Touching or moving garbage.
  • Cleaning things around you.
  • Getting home from the store, a friend’s house, or any public place.

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3) Give kids alternatives to soap and water

It is important to educate children that the use of soap and water is necessary for hand washing. However, soap and water aren’t always accessible, such as when you are in the car or in a store. In these cases, make sure your kids know to use hand sanitizer and keep their hands.

The hand sanitizer you and your children use should contain at least 60% alcohol to make it effective at killing germs. Your kids should also understand how to use hand sanitizer. A quarter-sized squirt rubbed on the front and back of their hands is good enough when you cannot access soap and water.

Lastly, inform your kids that hand sanitizers should not be used when they can see the germs on their hands. Therefore, to get rid of things like dirt, mud, and grease, they need to wash and scrub their hands.

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4) Provide kids with the tools they need to succeed

Your kids can only incorporate good hand hygiene into their daily routines if they have the tools to do so.

It’s a good idea to get them bathroom stools if they are not tall enough to reach the sink. Also, provide them with hand sanitizer to keep in their backpack, lunchbox, or pocket, and plenty of paper towels and soap where they frequently wash their hands.

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5) Encourage the appropriate hand washing duration

According to the CDC, your kids should follow these five steps every time:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water. Then turn off the tap and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel.

Remind your kids that they cannot share paper towels, wipes, or other disposable paper products to dry their hands after washing. Also, it is important to launder hand towels regularly to ensure that kids are wiping with clean linens once their hands are clean. In the meantime, ensure that hand towels stay dry between uses since germs typically grow and thrive in moisture.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Naturally Encourage Your Child’s Development

Final thoughts

It is crucial for you to encourage your kids to use appropriate practices related to hand washing for their safety. By following some of these rules, it can make the process easier, more fun, and simpler for children to remember.

These practices can not only establish healthy hand hygiene but can set a precedent for proper self-care that lasts throughout a child’s life as a way to prevent disease.


  1. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. (2020). Handwashing: A family activity. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/handwashing-family.html
  2. Paediatr Child Health. (2001). Handwashing for parents and kids. Paediatr Child Health, 6(1), 53-54. doi: 10.1093/pch/6.1.53
  3. Stanford Children’s Hospital. (n.d.). Teaching kids to wash their hands. Retrieved from https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=teaching-kids-to-wash-their-hands-1-972
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Brittany Ferri is a registered and licensed occupational therapist with clinical experience in mental health, cognitive rehab, and complementary health. She is the founder of Simplicity of Health, LLC where she provides wellness education, consulting, health writing, program development, and teletherapy for children and adults. Brittany is passionate about health promotion and disease prevention for all, which has led her to publish several books educating others about wellness. She has authored a textbook called "Effective Occupational Therapy Documentation", a children's book called "Why is there a person in my computer?" that educates kids about teletherapy, and "Complementary Health Approaches for OTs", which is coming in the fall of 2020. She is also a PhD candidate in Integrative Mental Health from Saybrook University, as well as an adjunct professor at Nazareth College. Check out her website at https://www.simplicityofhealth.com