30th Oct 2020

When it comes to maintaining healthy hygiene habits, hand washing is widely regarded as one of the quickest and easiest ways to help prevent the spread of unwanted bugs (1). After all, from shaking hands to touching shared surfaces, there’s ample opportunity for us to come into contact with hidden germs.

Hand washing is so engrained in our day-to-day routines that it’s hard to imagine a time when it didn’t feel like second nature. But, for your little one, proper hand hygiene is a skill that must be mastered over time.

Helping them understand the importance of good hand washing, as well as some handy tips for ensuring they practice it regularly and effectively, can help lay the groundwork for a lifelong hygiene habit

What Is Proper Hand Washing?

Although your little one may make an attempt at washing their hands (think running their hands under cold water for a couple of seconds before dashing off back to the playground), proper hand washing is a prescriptive practice.

For squeaky clean hands, the temperature of the water, use of soap and length of alter are all important.

Teach Your Child These 5 Steps For Clean Hands

  • Wet their hands with warm running water
  • Add soap to their hands and lather (making sure to get in between their fingers and the backs of their hands)
  • Rub their hands together for at least 20 seconds
  • Rinse off the soap with clean water
  • Dry with a clean hand towel or paper towel to finish

Explaining the Importance of Hand Washing to Your Child

For some children, understanding the “why” behind hand washing can be an important step in getting them to practice the hygiene habit properly and regularly.

This can be a tricky concept for your little one to grasp. After all, rubbing soap into their hands and the feeling of a snotty nose feel might feel like two separate matters.

So, a brief discussion about bugs, germs and their immune system may help them to comprehend the logic behind hand washing.

This can be as simple as explaining that there are teeny tiny germs (so small they can’t seem them!) that cause sore throats and runny noses, which live on all kinds of surfaces that your child’s hands come into contact with every day. And, that by scrubbing their hands regularly, your little one can wash away these germs and stop them from getting inside their nose and mouth and help prevent them from feeling poorly.

Simple Tips to Help Teach Your Child Handwashing

While some children may take to hand washing like a duck to water, others may need a little further encouragement to stick out the full 20 second lather each time.

These helpful tips can help reinforce your little one’s progress and help engrain the hygiene habit in their daily routine for good.

To make handwashing fun and engage your child in understanding more about proper hygiene, you may like to include some fun activities to go alongside hand washing. If you’d like to make more of the handwashing experience for your child, our handy tips may be of use to you.

Sing a Song

Construct an original masterpiece or sample your little one’s favourite soundtrack to help keep your little one engaged throughout the hand washing process.

The happy birthday song, the alphabet, and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star are all popular options, but any 20-second chorus that your child is familiar with will do.

Not only can this make the whole process more enjoyable, but it can also help your little one comprehend how long 20-seconds really is and therefore how long they should lather for.

Give Frequent Reminders

Like forming any new habit, it may take a little while for your little one to remember to wash their hands and for it to become a subconscious step in their daily routine.

By giving them a little nudge and regularly reminding them of how and when they need to wash their hands, (like before eating or after playing with pets) your child will eventually recognise which scenarios require a freshening up and head to the sink all on their own!

Lead by Example

Based on the concept of monkey see, monkey do, make sure you  practise what you preach to your little one.

This means washing your hands before and after eating or cooking, after using the bathroom, and after coughing or sneezing, as well as any other time your hands could do with a little freshening up. It may also be helpful to point out to your little one what you are doing (and why) and encourage them to wash their hands alongside you (for example, after a meal).

Be Patient

Remember, it may take your child a little while to practice proper handwashing techniques and to remember when it is necessary to head to the sink.

Being patient and understanding with your child can make for a positive learning experience and may help teaching them the skill a more supportive process. Show them that handwashing is a good thing, rather than something arduous or to be dreaded every day.

With these tips and tricks in your arsenal, your little one will be well on their way to washing up a storm. In the meantime, keep in mind that hand washing is a brand new concept for your child and it might take a little while before they start scrubbing their mitts completely unprompted. Remember, patience and persistence are key in laying the foundation for lifelong hygiene habits. Bugs and germs, be gone!

Of course, if you have any concerns about your child’s health, speak with your health professional.

If you’ve found this information useful,  may enjoy the following:

How To Teach Your Little One Healthy Hygiene Habits

This Is How Your Child’s Immune System Develops (And How To Support It)

7 Tips To Teach Your Little One To Blow Their Nose


  1. (2019). Hand washing. [online] Available at:




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