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February 2019

[Update] How to teach your kids to be hygienic

Written by Lemay Rogers
Cleanliness and Hygiene

I’m sure you’ll agree that good hygiene practices are important to lower your risk of illness. I dare say, good hygiene is a non-negotiable and the earlier good habits are instilled, the better for the individual in the long run. A quick example relates to hand washing.  

Did you know that diseases such as diarrhea and lower respiratory-tract infections cause 3.5 million deaths among children under the age of five each year? Many of these deaths could be prevented through good handwashing practices which curb the spread of harmful germs.

I think that Nathalie’s original blog on hygiene practices for kids summarises the topic beautifully. Let’s review her top 5 basic hygiene principles:

1. Hand washing: Need I say more? In case this is the first blog of ours you’ve read, hand washing is probably the single most important hygiene habit you can cultivate in your child. This is because washing your hands with soap and water is the world’s cheapest, yet most effective do-it-yourself vaccine against common illnesses such as flu and diarrhea. It’s important to make sure that children understand that getting dirty is not a crime, but that hands need to be cleaned after playing in the dirt, after visiting the toilet and before eating in order to stay healthy.

I would also suggest you provide younger children with regular reminders on how to wash their hands and when to wash their hands.

2. Fingernails: Clean fingernails go hand in hand (see what I did there) with hand washing, as dirty nails are a breeding ground for bacteria. Keep nails short, invest in a good nail brush,  and help your child scrub the dirt out from under their nails before bedtime.

3.Teeth brushing: Clean teeth and gums can prevent a wide range of health issues, including bad breath, cavities and expensive dentist visits later in life. Your child should brush (and preferably floss) at least twice per day.

4. Bathing: As mums around the world can attest, young children either love the bath or hate it but it is very necessary.   A bath with soap and water will help eliminate bacteria that may be harmful or odour causing.

5. Hair washing: Most young children can get away with washing their hair once or twice a week, depending on how hot it is, whether they are swimming etc. Washing hair too often can actually dry out young scalps, making them more prone to dandruff.

Good personal hygiene should form an integral part of the life skills we teach our children; skills which are not only important for their self-care and sufficiency, but also enable children to feel empowered, work on their socialisation and reasoning, and help develop healthy self-esteem.  But the question I often hear from other mums is how to know at what age our children should be achieving self mastery of the 5 basic skills I listed above. Here are some guidelines, based on a combination of research and personal experience:

Ages 2 -3: Your child should be learning to wash and dry their hands at the same time as they learn to use the toilet. This is the key time to embed the message that dirty hands can spread germs, especially after visiting the toilet.

Ages 3 - 4: Your child should be able to brush their teeth with assistance from you.

Ages 4 - 5: Your child should be able to brush their teeth, brush their hair, and wash their face without (too much) assistance.

Ages 6-7: Your child should be able to do all of the above, and bath, unsupervised.

Ages 8-9: Your child should be able to take care of personal hygiene without being told to do so.

Of course - as with everything related to kids - this is just a guideline. Some children take longer to master skills, and some may master some and not others.  Be guided by your child, and most importantly, never try and shame a child into any of these practices. The key to embedding any hygiene habit is for children to:  

1. See it being done by YOU:
It’s pointless telling your toddler to wash their hands after they use the bathroom or before dinner if you never do. Children learn far more from what they see than what they are told. We have to model the behaviour we want them to adopt.

2. Always have the necessary supplies available:  
It’s also pointless to tell children to wash their hands if there isn't any soap and water available, or toothpaste, or any of the other basics necessary for good hygiene.

3. Understand the consequences: 
Explaining that dirty hands can make you sick, and linking that back to a recent sore tummy or bout of flu helps make the message real. Just remember to keep it age appropriate though.

Download the school hygiene kit and start teaching your kids how to wash their hands with 9 easy steps.

Download School Kit

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Lemay Rogers

Lemay Rogers

Lémay Rogers is the Marketing Manager for Rentokil Initial. When not contributing to the Initial blog, she is the custodian of all things Marketing for Rentokil Initial South Africa, and supports the Sub-Saharan African businesses. As a frequent traveller AND mother of a toddler, she is all too aware of how easily germs can travel with us, from one location to another and then back to our homes. Follow Lémay on Twitter and LinkedIn for practical advice on good hygiene practices, both at home and in the workplace.

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