Keeping it Clean: Encouraging Good Hygiene in Young Children

Dirt makes kids happier than a pig in the mud, but where does that leave you?

Do you ever look at your child, the most precious thing in the whole world to you, and think, “Yuck!” Let’s face it; kids are dirt bombs, walking germ vectors, magnets for mess. You’re like Sisyphus over here, changing their clothes and wiping their nose every two hours. Ick.

It’s okay to get fed up with the reoccurring spaghetti detritus under the high chair when they are babies, but as they arrive at toddlerhood, there are plenty of things we can do as parents to encourage cleanliness.

Let’s run down the list of basic hygiene practices that get young kids thinking about their health in a positive way.

  • Hand washing: Many preschools and daycares have installed sinks in their entryways so that kids can wash their hands upon arriving each day. This considerably cuts down on the spreading of germs at school and home. If they hate hand washing, find them some sparkly, yummy-smelling soap and make up a game or a song they can sing. Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger do a great job of inspiring good habits, so if there is resistance, try to make it fun.
  • Teeth brushing: It’s the same deal here, kids (and some grownups!) don’t love this, in part because it signals bedtime. If you haven’t taken them to the dentist already, educate your children a little about dental health, and make sure you use the tooth fairy as an example of rewards for good dental hygiene.
  • Bath time: Most kids resist it at first and then they resist getting out of the tub. Normal! Bubble bath and toys are usually plenty of inspiration here. If bath time really freaks them out, try getting into the tub with them. Once they feel safe, they will spend hours in there on their own. As they get older, you can ease them into the shower by letting them play with the detachable showerhead; just makes sure you close the shower curtains. It’s ideal to move our kids as soon as possible to the shower since it requires considerably less water.
  • Coughing, sneezing, and nose blowing: This is the thing that really grosses most of us out: the giant sneeze followed by the infamous nose wipe. One thing that has worked for some parents is keeping a soft hanky handy, rather than tissue, which can be rough on tender noses. Gentle reminders and illustrating good practices yourself, “Excuse me!” and “Bless you!” are the best ways to improve these habits.
  • Soap vs. antibacterial hand sanitizer: This stuff might seem like the holy grail when you are out and about, but research shows that hand sanitizer has limited results in combatting certain types of microbes and doesn’t eradicate grease, dirt, or chemicals1. Soap and water are your best bets, and if you need a solution for travel, go for biodegradable baby wipes.
  • Be patient: This can be tough when your kid is on the fourth outfit of the day and your own hands are red and chaffed from washing; it can really be the pits. But deep breaths, lots of encouragement, and noting the progress they make will get you through it.

With kids, there is no two ways about it: we have diapers to change and clothes to wash and the whole “clean” prospect can seem like some “pre-family” fantasy. Rest assured it doesn’t stay that way. Do what you can do, and take some strange comfort in the fact that we live in a soup of organisms big and small, and that low-level exposure to this bio-diverse world will ultimately protect our children from sickness and infection.






About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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