Hand Washing: Importance And Benefits

Does your child know hand washing is a great start to keep germs away? Here's how you can help your child understand the benefits and importance of hand washing.

By Team ParentCircle  • 11 min read

Hand Washing: Importance And Benefits
Boy washing hands in running water

A handmade clay doll, a dirty little pebble, a mud-drenched play ball – just a few of the many goodies a child brings back home. But, with them come the unwelcome guests in the form of disease-yielding germs. Yes, it is never easy to stop your child from the muddy world outside. It can get more difficult when he does not pay heed to your repeated calls to wash his hands or take a shower.

Germs are everywhere and can easily be transferred from hands, feet and skin to our bodies. Some of these germs can cause diarrhoea, food poisoning, respiratory infections and malnutrition, among others. Although germs are not visible to the naked eye, they are present everywhere, from the surfaces of childrens’ toys, to the handrails on public transport, and to other objects of everyday use.

A rapid increase in the spread of disease-causing germs can be attributed to the following reasons:

  • growing pollution and population density
  • unhygienic practices like not washing hands before eating
  • open defecation
  • drinking unclean water
  • not washing fruits and vegetables before consuming

Importance of hand washing

Hand washing is the primary defence mechanism against germs. It is by far the most effective way to keep children from falling sick. When your child comes in contact with disease-prone germs, she inadvertently becomes a germ-carrier. All it takes is a touch. Proximity to an infected person’s eyes, nose, mouth, hands or even sharing the same breathing space can prove damaging. One member getting infected is all it takes for the entire family to fall sick by the same bug. Dirty hands have the potential to become the root cause of many ailments.

Hand washing for kids

“Children need to be taught that washing hands is the best way to avoid ailments like a runny nose, bad throat, tummy aches and even itchy skin. Get your child to think about all the things he touched during the day — from the toilet to the telephone. Teach him how he might have caught millions of germs through these contacts. Parents should instil an element of fun while teaching their children the importance of keeping their hands clean. I strongly believe that every parent should lead by example," opines Dr Pooja Bhrigu, Chief Paediatrician and Director, Bhrigu Maternity Hospital, Raipur.

Although the WHO and other health bodies around the world have been stressing on hand washing for so many years, it took an outbreak of the dreaded Ebola to come as the wake-up call. Hand hygiene has come to life again.

Benefits of washing hands

For your child to clearly understand why it is important to wash her hands, explain to her the following benefits:

  • Protection from diarrhoea and other diseases related to the digestive system
  • Elimination of bacteria that might cause infections and allergies to the skin and eyes
  • Prevention of respiratory tract infections
  • Improvement of overall health and well being

Most effective preventive measure

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set off on a massive Swachh Bharat Abhiyan drive and one of the important elements of the campaign is hand washing. As PM Modi indicated, no amount of social initiative will suffice unless the urge to keep clean becomes our core value. To drive home this message, he has urged parents to inculcate the habit of washing hands in children right from their toddler years. The Prime Minister’s initiative is being hailed as a step in the right direction.

"Healthy living and hygienic habits are a lifestyle choice that everyone must make. We should recognise that, as a country that's becoming increasingly progressive, Modi's initiative is commendable. As far as washing hands is concerned, it is the most basic and most effective preventive measure. Over 65 per cent of infections can be countered through the simple act of washing hands. However, overdoing it is also not advisable as it can rip the skin off moisture and lower our inbuilt immunity," says Dr Manoj Beno, Medical Director of Billroth Hospitals, Chennai.

Hand washing steps and procedure

This step-by-step instruction to your child will help her maximise the benefits of washing hands:

  • Wet the hands first with clean running water
  • Then, lather up with soap, preferably an anti-bacterial soap
  • Scrub the fingers and nails
  • Scrub the inside of the palm for a minimum of 20 seconds
  • Rinse thoroughly
  • Finally, pat dry with a clean towel
  • Always carry a purse sanitizer to keep germs at bay

When to wash the hands

Ensure your child washes hands with soap:

  • before and after every meal
  • before and after using the restroom
  • before holding an infant
  • before and after shaking hands with someone who’s sick
  • before and after treating cuts, abrasions or wounds
  • after outdoor playtime
  • after visiting the hospital (a shower is more advisable here)
  • after soiling his hands in the mud
  • after blowing his nose, coughing or sneezing
  • after playing and cuddling with pets
  • after using public transport

What parents should teach their children about sanitation and hygiene

In addition to washing hands, parents should also teach their children good sanitation habits that can eradicate diseases even before they manifest. In our crusade against the relentless invasion of germs and viruses, the most effective solution is, surprisingly, the simplest too.

Educating children about sanitation and hygiene in everyday life is key to good health and development. When parents demonstrate good sanitation practices, children also find it easier to learn and follow them. Here's how you can teach your child the importance of sanitation and hygiene:

  • Make your child understand that washing hands with soap and water is extremely important to keep disease-causing germs at bay, and it is the most vital hygiene practice. Washing hands is especially necessary after using the bathroom and before handling food items or having food.
  • Train your child early on to wear slippers to the bathroom. Explain to her how by not wearing slippers to the bathroom, germs can get transferred via the feet to the hands or face.
  • Ask him to flush the toilet after use and keep the surroundings clean.
  • Educate her about the importance of keeping food items and drinking water covered to protect them from flies that spread germs.
  • Lead by example – Let your child observe your routine. Practice with him activities like brushing your teeth, combing hair, and washing hands using soap. If they see you following healthy habits, they will more likely follow suit.
  • It is important to toilet-train your child. Teach her to wash or wipe thoroughly from front to back and wash her hands when done.
  • A great way to engage your child in any task is to pump up the excitement by adding a little incentive. It can be as simple as using his preferred flavoured toothpaste or a cool light-up toothbrush. It doesn’t take much to make routine activities fun.
  • Make it a routine – Children thrive on routines. Incorporate basic practices into your morning and evening ritual. For example, make bathing and brushing teeth a precursor to the first activity of the morning. As your child starts to perform these tasks daily, she will begin to accept them as a part of her daily life.

These simple methods of ensuring cleanliness go a long way in preventing children from falling ill. It empowers them to take the responsibility of their health into their own hands. It is important to explain to children the importance of sanitation and hygiene, and the consequences of not following healthy habits.

Only if everyone washed hands

Here is some interesting information on washing hands, provided by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services :

  • Globally, it is estimated that only 19% of people wash their hands after using the toilet.
  • Washing hands with soap could protect 1 out of 3 children from diarrhoea, and 1 out of 5 children from pneumonia.
  • Washing hands reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhoea by 23-40% and respiratory illnesses like colds by 16-21%.
  • It also reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29-57%.

Hand washing is one of the most effective methods of preventing diseases. A simple act of washing hands whenever required can go a long way in keeping your child healthy and happy. As a parent, set an example in doing it, so that your little one learns from you. It is, without a doubt, one of the biggest life lessons you could teach her. Go, get your child to enjoy hand washing. All you need is soap and water, and plenty of intent. After all, you’d be the happiest person if your household is the healthiest.

About the author:

Written by Team ParentCircle on 17 April 2017; updated on 20 September 2019

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