How to Teach Kids to Wash Their Hands


With the addition of masks and hand sanitizer on the back-to-school shopping list this year, many parents are left wondering: how else can I ensure my child has a safe school experience?

“The way to protect our younger children and other vulnerable members of our community are for more eligible people to get vaccinated,” shares Christine Nefcy, MD, FAAP, Munson Healthcare’s Chief Medical Officer. “And then, to follow the same mitigation factors that we have followed all along. Wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently and practicing good hygiene.”

With the possibility of COVID-19 complications in children, like Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) and the expected risk of normal winter viruses like influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), following the advice of our trusted medical professionals is more important now than ever before. We know vaccines, masking, social distancing and frequent hand washing are proven methods to combat COVID-19. But how can you get your kids into the handwashing habit? Here are a few tips for you.

Share how handwashing helps

Explain to your children that handwashing helps prevent them from getting sick and making other people sick.

When to Wash

Have your child wash their hands before:

  • Eating
  • Touching their mouth, eyes, or nose
  • Touching a cut or scrape

And after:

  • Going to the bathroom
  • Playing with pets or other animals
  • Touching pet food or treats
  • Being on playground equipment
  • Being close to a person who is sick
  • Touching a dirty diaper
  • Touching garbage

4 Steps to clean hands

Here are 4 easy steps to clean hands:

  1. Get wet and soapy. Get your hands wet in clean, running water (warm or cold). Put soap on your hands and make suds.
  2. Rub. Rub, rub, rub your soapy hands together for about 20 seconds. Encourage your child to choose a song to sing in their head or out loud while they scrub. Remind them to clean their palms, the back of their hands and between their fingers. Don’t forget to clean under the nails! Nails can trap dirt and germs.
  3. Rinse. Hold hands under clean, running water. Rub them to rinse them fully.
  4. Shake and dry. Shake your hands a few times, then dry them with a clean towel or hand dryer. Done!

Can’t reach the sink?

If your child is small, hold them up to the sink. If your child can stand, use a safety step to boost them up to the faucet.

If your child is too heavy to lift and there’s no step nearby, wipe their hands with a damp and soapy paper towel. Use another clean, wet paper towel to rinse soap off the hands. Dry their hands with a third clean paper towel. Wash your own hands after helping your child.

When to reach for hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer doesn’t work well when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. Soap and water are best because they remove dirt, grease, and germs fully. But hand sanitizer is a good backup when you can’t get to soap and water. Use an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Teach your child to:                                                                                                                        

  1. Splatter. Put a quarter-sized blob of hand sanitizer into a palm.
  2. Rub. Rub their hands – front and back and between fingers – until they’re dry. Done!

Tips for success

  • Lead by example. Make sure to practice what you preach. Wash your hands before eating or cooking a meal, after using the bathroom, and after working or playing with your hands.
  • Be patient. It takes time for a child to get into the habit of handwashing and do it properly. Make sure to give help when needed.
  • Remind as often as needed. Children will wash their hands if dirt is obvious, like mud or finger paint. They will need to be reminded to wash away germs that can’t be seen.

Does your child have a pediatrician or family physician?

If your family doesn’t have a pediatrician or primary care physician who specializes in child or family medicine, use our Find-A-Doctor tool or call our Ask-A-Nurse line at 231-935-0951. Our team will help you find a qualified provider near you.

Find A Doctor

Still have questions on how to keep your child safe?

We’re here for you. If you have questions, call Munson Healthcare Ask-a-Nurse at 231-935-0951 to discuss symptoms. Our nurses are answering health questions 24 hours a day at no charge to you (no insurance is required).

Ask-A-Nurse   231-935-0951