Little Kids

How to get kids to wash their hands

Make handwashing part of your routine

By Teresa Pitman
How to get kids to wash their hands


There are two types of kids: ones who hate washing their hands and ones who love it. The ones who love it waste some soap, but at least their hands are clean.

Kristin Marshall, whose youngest son is five, admits: “I have not always been super-vigilant about handwashing.” After attending nursing school, though, Marshall put a new priority on the handwashing aspect of hygiene. She got concerned when her son’s daycare reported that he strongly resisted washing his hands there — to the point where he would avoid the bathroom and have accidents as a result.

If you think it’s tough getting one child to wash his hands, spare a little sympathy for Julie Larose, who runs a home daycare and has five little ones to supervise in the bathroom! To develop a handwashing routine, Larose and other preschool parents have found several approaches to be effective:

Explain the benefits It may help to tell your child that handwashing keeps him healthy and “sends the germies down the sink.” Just be cautious if you have a preschooler who tends to be anxious, or he might want to wash up 20 times a day.

Just do it — together Marshall says she tackled her son’s handwashing resistance by joining him: “I go into the bathroom with my little guy and we wash our hands together. I don’t talk about it; we just do it.”

Make it routine Sarah Dufton, mother of four, also requires that hands be washed before mealtimes and says, “It’s just part of the routine. No discussion.”

Make it easy and accessible At Larose’s daycare, she has a step to bring the preschoolers up to the level of the bathroom sink, taps that are easy for little hands to turn on and off, and a foamy soap dispenser that is easy to push.

Teach technique Larose also has a series of pictures on the wall above the sink showing how to wet hands, add soap, scrub, rinse and dry. You may not want handwashing instructions on your bathroom wall, but you can teach your child these steps. And one way to get them scrubbing and rinsing a bit longer is to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or the alphabet song with them as they wash up.


Personalize the tools Sarah Dufton gives her children liquid hand soap in their stockings every year at Christmas. “They put their initials on the caps and are pleased as punch when it is their soap’s turn to be used in the bathroom,” she says. Larose has a towel in a different colour for each child at her daycare, and says the children take special pleasure in making sure they always use their own.

Bring cleansers with you Washing at home may have become routine, but what about when you’re out — especially if there are no handy washrooms? Marshall always carries hand sanitizer with her. “If the sanitizer is more than 70 percent alcohol, it will kill almost anything. It can be hard on some people’s skin, though.” Dufton doesn’t like the sanitizers, but brings baby wipes along to clean mucky hands. “I also have a couple of peri-bottles (water bottles could work too) that I bought at a medical supply pharmacy,” Dufton adds. “They don’t leak, and you can use them to squirt a little cleanser over a child’s hands. I keep one in the van and one in my bag, filled with water with a little soap added.”

Larose admits that maybe her strategies are working too well. “Getting them to wash isn’t hard — it’s getting them to stop that’s tough. They’ll gladly let the water run for five minutes or more, just playing in the suds, if I don’t go in and remind them to turn it off.” Still, she likes being confident that the youngsters she’s caring for have clean hands before she hands out a snack or invites them to play together.

This article was originally published on Feb 08, 2010

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