One of the most effective methods of preventing the spread of communicable diseases in preschool and daycare is the simple act of hand washing. The last thing that excitable little ones have on their minds, though, is good hygiene. That’s where parents and caregivers must step in, teaching preschool-age children the ins and outs of keeping themselves clean. From preventing tooth decay to ensuring she doesn’t smell unpleasant, these are a few of the things that your child needs to know and some hints for passing those skills along.
Model Good Hygiene
More than anything else, making sure that you’re always modeling good hygiene in front of your kids will help them to gain the habits you’re hoping to instill. At such a young age, your kids are looking to the adults in their lives that they love and admire for an example. Your child will take her cues from the behavior she observes in you, so make sure that you make a point of washing your hands at the appropriate times, brushing your teeth where they can see you and maintaining proper bodily hygiene.
Establish a Routine
A strong and reliable routine of hand washing after trips to the restroom, before meals and other such events won’t help your child remember to wash her hands after an unscheduled messy event, but it can instill a strong habit of doing so when it matters most. If she knows that brushing her teeth is something that happens at the same time every day, she’s less likely to fight it than if the task is sprung on her when she’s otherwise occupied. Make sure that bath time, brushing teeth and hand washing after restroom breaks and before meals are all a part of your child’s ingrained routine.
Make it Fun
Invest in plaque-disclosing mouthwash that will turn your child’s teeth bright green or pink when there’s still plaque present. Pretend to examine her hands with a magnifying glass during a game of Germ Detective to encourage thorough and regular hand washing. Encourage her to choose her own toothbrush, soap dispenser or bubble bath to make the task more appealing. Kids learn best when they’re engaged and absorbed, so look for ways to make the process more entertaining. Remember the days of airplane sounds during feeding times, and draw from that experience for inspiration regarding the best ways of teaching new habits.
Make it Musical
Thorough hand washing requires at least 20 seconds of soap-and-scrubbing time for full effectiveness. That’s about as long as it takes a child to sing a single verse of the Alphabet song. Find music that your child can listen to while he brushes his teeth, with the understanding that he’s not finished until the song is over. Write your own songs about bath time and getting clean. During these years, your child is almost certainly fascinated by music. Why not use that fixation to your advantage and help her to form the basis of the hygienic habits that will follow her into adulthood by setting the whole thing to a fun soundtrack?
Hit the Bookstore
There are few milestones in your child’s life that won’t be covered by at least one specialty children’s book. From the first day of school to potty training and the importance of religious tolerance, there are scads of brightly-illustrated lessons on your local bookstore’s shelves. When the time comes to really work with kids on the importance of hygiene, look for some children’s books on the subject that strike her fancy. Bring her into the story and help her see that keeping clean is important for a variety of reasons. When she sees her new favorite characters going through these all-important motions, she may be tempted to emulate that heroine.
Lessons in good hygiene are an ongoing process, rather than a one-time experience. Your little one may need reminders about the best times to wash her hands and how to handle a toothbrush for quite some time, but laying the foundation from an early age will help her to embrace good hygiene as she gets older.