Teaching children personal hygiene

Wash hands thoroughly after going to the toilet and before eating.
Wash hands thoroughly after going to the toilet and before eating. Photo: Getty

It’s a fine line to walk: teaching your kids to be hygienic without turning them into germophobic pedants. But hygiene is an important lesson to learn when you spend your days in a room with 25-30 other children who work in constantly close proximity to one another. And, of course, we can’t be around all day every day to ensure they are doing the right thing.

Of my three children, one is fastidious about hygiene, one has a much more – er – relaxed attitude, and for the third the jury is still out. But I have definitely noticed that it’s the child with the relaxed attitude that comes home with absolutely everything. I’ve lost count of the worms, lice, cold and flu, and gastro treatments that we’ve gone through over the years. And the first time I went searching for worms by torchlight remains burnt in my memory forever. I’m not sure if they were as startled as I was, but going in there and having someone looking back out at you is quite a surreal experience.

But the importance of good hygiene isn’t just about health. It also helps children to have healthy self-esteem – to take pride in the way they present to the world. And it’s an unfortunate fact that kids can be cruel. Good personal hygiene can help prevent your child from possible unwanted attention.

From when they start school, there are several guidelines children can follow in order to maintain good personal hygiene:

  1. Shower or bath every day, using deodorant if it is appropriate, and brush teeth twice a day.
  2. Wear a fresh uniform every day or, if they wear one for two days, encourage your child to hang their uniform up as soon as they get home so it can air and any wrinkles can fall out before the next morning.
  3. Wash hands thoroughly after going to the toilet and before eating. A good rule of thumb for children is to count slowly to five while soaping up wet hands, and then rinse them thoroughly under running water. Also try to get your children to avoid putting their fingers in their mouths. If they suck their thumb or bite their nails, this can be a real problem because bacteria, viruses and worms can easily be transferred into their body. You can investigate various methods of trying to break such a habit, or get advice from your GP.
  4. Cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze – preferably with a tissue, and then wash hands afterwards.
  5. Try not to touch their heads to other children’s heads. Head lice can be a chronic problem for some children. The insects are also becoming more resistant to our chemical treatments so the easiest way to deal with them is to avoid catching them in the first place.

As for us, the caregivers, we can help out by keeping our children at home if they are acutely unwell or contagious, and promptly treating communicable conditions such as head lice and worms before they spread further.

Perhaps most importantly, it can be helpful to explain to our children why all of these actions are important. We teach them how to be hygienic so they can remain healthy and strong and feel good about themselves. A little annoyingly for me, my relaxed child seems to have more self-esteem than you can poke a stick at. But understanding this can help children to understand the importance and to buy into the actions we need them to take when we’re not around.

How do you teach your children good hygiene? Any great tips to share?