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As a mother and a nurse, I know that teaching my children proper handwashing early in life means that I am teaching them to better protect themselves in this ever-changing world.

Now don’t get me wrong, life in our house is often chaotic and busy.  But one thing I never rushed was teaching good handwashing.  I know how important it is for them to wash their hands properly, every single time.

Children (and sadly some adults), are satisfied with a quick rinse with a little soap to get clean hands.   

I'm a nurse and Ii didnt even know the "proper" way to wash until I became a nursing instructor and had to teach proper handwashing, step by step, to ensure students knew how to prevent the spread of germs before entering the workforce.  

So,  when it came time to start potty training my kids,  I took my knowledge and mixed it with a song to sing every time we washed.   (Yes.. every single time.)

Teaching proper handwashing to young children.  

The basics rules…

Wet Hands before soap

Be sure to teach your child to wet their hands completely before adding the soap.   The 20 seconds shouldn’t start until you start your lather!

20 seconds of Friction 

 You need at least 20 seconds of FRICTION while lathering to get germs off of your hands.  

Scrub your fingertips

After getting a good lather, take your fingertips and scrub them into the palm of the opposite hand.  This will help reduce any germs caught under the fingernails.  (Don’t forget the thumb!)  Repeat on the other hand.  

Circle the wrist

Next, have your child take one hand and encircle the wrist of the opposite hand, and scrub those germs off too!  Repeat on the other hand.

All Over Scrub

Just before finishing up, do an all-over scrub.


Finally, rinse the soap off.  

All these steps should take about 20 to 30 seconds.…which coincidentally is about the same amount of time it takes to sing the ABC’s!

So,  we get a 2 for 1 here, You get to teach good hand hygiene AND you’ll be practicing the ABC’s on a regular basis!

Adding a timer into the mix can make it even more fun and exciting for little ones, (especially if you’ve got a particularly stubborn child.)   We particularly like this timer which hangs on your bathroom wall for ease of use.  It’s pre-programmed to time handwashing as well as teeth brushing.   And since the ABC’s are sung to the tune of twinkle twinkle little star, it still allows you to practice your letters regularly!

Don’t forget to teach public restroom skills

As parents, everything we do should be preparing our children for independence.  And one of the first things that children will need to be capable of doing on their own is using a PUBLIC restroom.  Once they arrive at preschool or kindergarten, they’ll likely be expected to handle all of their potty needs on their own.  It’s the one area where teachers are not watching your child’s every move.

So in addition to teaching handwashing skills, be sure to teach the extra steps they’ll need to take when they are in a public restroom.

Turn off the faucet with a paper towel.

Remember how I said that most people (kids and adults alike) are doing the “quick rinse” version of handwashing?

That means that those faucet knobs are covered in plenty of bacteria. In fact, one study showed that there are over 120,000 bacteria in one square centimeter. Yikes! And… yuck.

I teach my children to dry their hands before turning off the faucet.  Then, using their paper towel, they can turn those faucet handles without reintroducing bacteria.

Open the door with the paper towel when possible.

In school, multi-stall bathrooms often have no door or the door remains open.  This is done in order to allow the teacher to hear what is happening inside the bathroom to help keep children safe and focused.  But in single-stall bathrooms or other public places, your child will have a door to contend with.  

If at all possible, they should use their paper towel to open the door and avoid the bacteria-ridden handles and knobs.   This can be a bit tricky if the trash can isn’t easily available near the door.  So if you have a child who’s a stickler for routine, make sure you tell them that this step can be skipped if absolutely necessary!

The sooner you start, the easier it will be.  

Although it might seem like this whole process is a bit extreme for a young child, the best age to start practicing hand washing is 2 years old (or as soon as they are capable).  

The truth is that the sooner you teach your child proper handwashing, the easier it will be. 

Little children LOVE learning new things and they often think that their parents are the most interesting person on the planet.  So if you jump in and wash hands with your child as soon as they are capable of following directions and reaching the faucet (with a step stool of course), you’ll probably find that they are more than willing to sing along while they scrub.

Another benefit to starting young is that your child will form the habit of proper handwashing and won’t think twice about it as he grows older.

If you’re a little late to the game and your preschooler or elementary-aged student is still working on proper handwashing, you may find that your child isn’t interested in singing abc’s.   Often, older children need an understanding of why they must do something a certain way before they are willing to put in the effort. 

In that case, you could do a fun (and super eye-opening) object lesson, using this germ simulator and a small blacklight.   This method is what is used to help nursing students understand the importance of proper handwashing.

You’ve got this, mama!

People often don’t realize that handwashing is the single most important step in preventing the spread of germs.  It’s especially important for children because of their tendency to put their fingers and toys in or near their mouths

It might seem daunting to do this every single time we wash, but 20-30 extra seconds in the bathroom can help you avoid a week-long virus!  

If EVERYONE practiced proper handwashing from a young age,  researchers have estimated that 1 MILLION deaths per year would be prevented!

So share this post on your Facebook page and help SPREAD THE WORD! 

About the Author

This post was Authored by Lisa Ball, LPN

Lisa is a Licensed Practical Nurse and Mother to three beautiful children.  Before being promoted to stay at home mom, she was a nursing instructor at a technical school where she taught high school students the foundational concepts of health, medicine and nursing.

How (and when) to teach good handwashing to kids