About Toddler Handwashing

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Toddlers get their little hands into everything. It’s part of how they learn about the world. In the process, their hands pick up lots of visible and invisible dirt. While it’s not possible to keep your little one’s hands spotless at all times — and chasing him around with a washcloth could make you both crazy — proper and timely hand washing helps cut down on both sticky hand prints and icky colds in the house.


Why It Matters

Clean hands don’t transfer dirt to other surfaces, such as your walls, windowsills and drapes. More importantly, though, keeping your toddler’s hands clean cuts down on germs that cause colds, the flu and other illnesses, including diarrhea, pneumonia and strep throat. Washing your toddler’s hands and teaching her to wash her own hands the right way help keep her and your whole family healthier.

Teaching Your Toddler

Your toddler is probably too young to understand germs, but he’s not too young to learn how to wash his hands properly. The best way to teach proper hand hygiene is through example — wash your own hands and his at appropriate times throughout the day. Have him stand beside you at the sink while you model proper hand washing — that’s fancy-speak for “wash your own hands the right way” — then let him try it himself.

Help your older toddler understand why hand washing is important with a little glitter and hand lotion. Slather her hands with hand lotion, then sprinkle glitter over them and let them dry. Let her try to get the glitter off with a dry paper towel, then with cold water and finally with warm water and soap. She’ll have fun and learn a dramatic lesson on how proper hand washing helps get rid of germs.

When to Wash

Make washing your hands part of the routine when doing tasks throughout the day. Always wash your toddler’s hands — and yours — after using the bathroom or changing a diaper, before and after handling food, before eating and after handling animals. Teach her to wash her hands after she blows her nose, or when she coughs or sneezes into her hands. Wash your hands before and after treating a scrape or cut.

How to Wash

Turn the water on to a comfortable temperature. Have your child hold his hands under the water, turning them over to wet them thoroughly. Squeeze some hand soap into his palm, or have him use a bar of soap to work up some lather. Have him rub his hands together for 15 to 20 seconds — about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice — making sure that he rubs the backs, palms and wrists, in between his fingers and under his fingernails. Rinse his hands well and dry them thoroughly with a clean towel.

Away from Home

Sometimes little hands get dirty when there’s no sink and soap available. Tuck a wet washcloth into a plastic bag and toss it into your diaper bag or purse for cleaning up visibly soiled hands. If your kiddo’s hands don’t look dirty but you want to do a quick cleanup before he eats or after he handles something icky, whip out the hand sanitizer. Squirt a dollop into his open palm and have him scrub-a-dub as if it were soap and water. Keep a close eye on the process until the sanitizer gel is completely dry to make sure he doesn’t lick it up. Once it’s dry, the alcohol is evaporated, and the danger is gone.

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