Teaching Children the Importance of Hygiene
Posted by Emily Pazel

As young children move from the infant stage to the toddler stage and beyond, it’s important to teach them life lessons that are important for early childhood development, which not only applies to excelling in the classroom but also for fundamental things at home, such as proper hygiene. As parents and guardians, we end up doing a lot for our children, and they are constantly watching and soaking up our every move. That’s why it’s important to set good examples of proper hygiene that becomes important as they age through life.

However, as many of us know, teaching a moody toddler how to brush their teeth isn’t always a walk in the park. And bath time isn’t always the bubbly experience we see on TV commercials. While some days are just better than others when it comes to your child’s behavior, there are ways to make personal hygiene more fun and less like a chore to do around the house.

Why is Hygiene Important?

Good personal hygiene, according to healthdirect.gov, is one of the best ways to protect yourself – as well as others – from getting gastro or infectious diseases. Although we don’t hear about it as much anymore, COVID-19 and other colds and flu are still circulating around, and washing with soap removes germs that can make you or your loved ones sick.

Personal hygiene includes:

  • Cleaning your body every day
  • Washing your hands with soap after going to the toilet
  • Brushing your teeth twice a day
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue (or your sleeve) when sneezing or coughing
  • Washing your hands after handling pets and other animals

Germs or your child may refer to them as “cooties”, which can be spread through touching other people, getting feces on your hands, handling contaminated food, or even coming into contact with dirty surfaces or objects. When you have poor personal hygiene it can cause: infectious diseases, diarrhea, respiratory infection, staph infections, worm-related conditions, athlete’s foot, or even tooth decay.

Although personal hygiene can easily get lumped into the “things-you-have-to-do-around-the-house” category and end up looking more like chores, it’s crucial to make them fun and educational so that your children know the benefits and understand the reasons why it’s so critical to have good hygiene.

Teaching Your Child or Pre-Teen About Good Hygiene

After a long day of playing outside with friends and family, it can be hard to convince a young child that taking a bath before bed is good for their health – let alone brushing their teeth twice a day. So, what do you do? Do you skip it and hope for the best? Although that may sound tempting, it’s better to not skip things like that because then it may be harder to get them to do it the next go around.

Starting them young is a great way to get personal hygiene as just another part of the bedtime or morning-time routines. By the toddler age, you can start to teach them about brushing their teeth, washing their hands, and using the bathroom. Then by ages 3-5, you can let your child try to do these tasks by themselves with you present. And by ages 6-9, try to push your child to get through their daily hygiene routine on their own and without being asked to do it.

And, as with many tasks that involve parenthood, there are always little tips and tricks involved to help along the way for younger children:

  • Show and Tell: Who doesn’t love show and tell? Many young children are visual learners, so make sure you personally demonstrate healthy routines you want them to learn and participate in as often as you can.
  • Use Books and Stories: Make sure kids know why good hygiene is important. There are many storybooks and online activities that can teach kids about germs and bacteria, and how washing hands, bathing, and brushing can keep them healthy. There are even smartphone apps to help teach about hygiene and track their efforts.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Keep a chart and reward your kids with star stickers every time they properly demonstrate good hygiene. Incentivize them further by offering a reward when they collect a certain number of stickers.
  • Make it a Song: It’s recommended that hand washing should last at least 20 seconds, which is about the same length as singing “Happy Birthday” twice. And the same concept can be applied when brushing their teeth, except for finding a song that’s around 2 minutes long.
  • Stick to Routines: Everyone loves a good routine and children thrive on routines. By setting strict morning, nighttime, and bath-time routines, good hygiene will eventually become an automatic response.

Once you have started your good hygiene routines and have got them down pat, it’s good to keep the conversation going. It’s a topic that should be revisited fairly often as your child continues to grow. For example, once your child can master brushing their teeth on their own, move on to the importance of flossing. As children near the age of puberty, these conversations should come up again, and keeping the lines of communication open with your children is good so that they can feel comfortable talking about personal things.

When your children become pre-teens, it’s a good idea to check and double-check again to make sure they are continuing with the hygiene techniques and lessons they learned as a child. Especially during the years when puberty begins to happen, the human body starts to change and may require a little more grooming.

Even as your children age and become older, according to scholastic.com, you need to still check that they are:

  • Still bathing: Although you would think that taking a bath and washing would be one of the most basic hygiene habits to remember, sometimes pre-teens can be funny about it. A shower every day is typically a must, especially after a rigorous sports practice or outdoor play. Also, preteens might find that their hair gets oiler as they grow, so making sure to wash it often will help.
  • Brushing teeth: Some kids just don’t like to brush their teeth; it’s important to talk about things such as gingivitis, cavities, and bad breath that often come as the consequence of not brushing your teeth twice a day.
  • Washing hands: Make sure your preteens are still washing their hands after using the bathroom, sneezing, and playing with pets.
  • Shaving: Typically around middle school is when many girls want to start shaving, so buying a kid-friendly razor and shaving cream and offering tips about shaving can be a big help.
  • Discussing Feminine Hygiene: Tell your pre-teen daughter about different ways bacteria can harm her body and advise her not to share hairbrushes or makeup, especially if it’s used near her eyes or mouth. Also, help her feel comfortable asking questions or raising concerns about menstruating, and teaching her which products to use, etc.

By using these techniques and lessons, you can help your child and pre-teens say goodbye to dirt and germs and hello to fresh, clean habits. So, just remember – try to make learning about hygiene fun by singing a song, participating with your child, and then continuing the lessons throughout their life. Although they may not be able to communicate or show it, they appreciate all the help you do for them to keep them happy and healthy.