Handwashing tips for toddlers

COVID-19 is teaching the world the importance of washing our hands. Adults everywhere are taking handwashing seriously to help prevent the spread of the infection; but how do we communicate the importance of hand hygiene to toddlers? With love, of course!

Toddlers are by nature messy: they have an inborn need to touch every surface, including their mouth and face. Hands get dirty frequently. They are also reluctant to wash well and some don’t want to wash at all. We can help them by developing sweet rituals around the handwashing experience with three simple tips:

1. Set an expectation around handwashing

Start with first/the statement to set the expectation that hands are going to be washed. For example, “First, we will play outside! Then we will wash our hands!” or “First we will wash our hands! Then we will eat a cookie!” Wash their hands after coming inside of the house, after errands or play, after using the restroom, before eating, after coughing or sneezing, or any time you come into contact with something considered dirty.

2. Wash as a family
Stand behind your child, with your arms wrapped around theirs. Look at them as you wash. Use warm water and a gentle soap to avoid irritation. Be gentle! Toddler’ hands are delicate and if the pressure used to clean them is uncomfortable, they will resist. Sing, play, or tell a story together as you wash.
3. Wash thoroughly
The goal is to wash for 20 seconds, which can seem really long for a young child. Engaging your child the entire time makes them feel loved and special. It’s a brief “I Love You Ritual” that can turn a chore into something sweet.

Written by Sara Connolly, MD, FAAP, Board Certified Pediatra

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