Parents must educate their children on personal hygiene for kids from their early years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), multiple diseases and ailments can be prevented by maintaining proper self-hygiene and frequently washing the body parts (1).
Many infections spread via the oral-fecal route or in the form of droplets from the nasal passages. Hence, teaching aspects of personal hygiene and implementing a set of hygiene practices helps control infections in such cases.
Browse through this post to understand the significance of personal hygiene for children and some tips to help your children follow the rules of personal hygiene.
Personal Hygiene For Children – What Is It?
Personal hygiene comprises various day-to-day activities such as bathing, brushing teeth, and washing hands.
Whether they go to the school, a park, or any other place, children come into contact with dirt and dust that carry infection-causing microorganisms. Infact, there are germs everywhere in the environment. Kids tend to put their hands and toys in their mouth. These could get transferred to their hands and find their way into the child’s body, causing various diseases and infections. We can prevent this by teaching personal hygiene habits.
Importance Of Personal Hygiene For Children
Children who live in unhygienic conditions and have poor personal hygiene are prone to illnesses as their immune system is not as strong as that of the adults.
Good personal hygiene habits enable your children to:
- Stay healthy, free from illnesses and diseases caused due to bacteria.
- Feel good about themselves.
- Maintain and enjoy a healthy body image – people with poor personal hygiene have a negative body image, which can disrupt their social life.
- Develop a healthy personality – being clean, well-dressed and well-represented boosts one’s self-image, which in turn increases their confidence and their chances of success in professional as well as social lives.
- They are prevented from getting repeated infections and this results in better weight gain.
Children do not have the knowledge or skills to take care of their hygiene. Therefore, parents need to oversee their habits. The best way to teach kids about hygiene is to start early, with simple practices at home. Read on to know more about the healthy habits that you can help your child develop.
Types Of Personal Hygiene
Whether your child is at school or home, eating, sleeping, or playing, or helping you in the kitchen, they should maintain cleanliness. Because cleanliness is not just about keeping oneself clean, it is also about keeping the surroundings clean. Here are a few types of personal hygiene your child should be aware of.
1. Food hygiene for kids
Unhealthy eating habits could lead to food poisoning, which causes vomiting, diarrhea, or tummy pains. It can also lead to typhoid, hepatitis A or cholera. Even respiratory infections and flu develop due to improper hygiene. It is important to maintain hygiene when eating, serving, or preparing food to prevent bacteria from spreading from one person to another. Tell your children about the importance of food hygiene. At the same time, mothers should maintain their own hygiene.
When you are teaching your children about food hygiene, start with the basics – talk to them about germs and bacteria. Explain to them how quickly bacteria can spread from their hands to the food and into the mouth or nose. Use practical ways. Here are a few food hygiene habits that you should teach your child.
Children should be told to clean their hands thoroughly before handling food, and specifically after using the washroom. this needs to be reinforced every time. Here are some handwash rules you could teach your child.
- Always wash hands with soap and clean water before touching or handling food.
- Rinse and rub soap for atleast 1-2 minutes.
- It is essential to wash hands before eating after eating if they have been to the toilet or were playing outside.
- Clean hands thoroughly so that there are no traces of soap left. Use fresh water to clear the soap completely.
- Wash your hands frequently when helping in the kitchen, as vegetables, raw meat, and others may be carrying bacteria before they are cooked.
- Wash your hands after eating food.
- Mothers should wash the hands before cooking food or feeding the child or breast feeding the baby.
- Always use a clean cloth to wipe your hands and mouth.
- Teach your children to cover the food containers with lids after serving the contents on their plates.
- If your children often help you in the kitchen, then teach them the basics of storing foods and hygienic cooking.
2. Hand hygiene for kids
A simple act like washing hands can go a long way.
- According to the CDC, washing hands with soap water could reduce diarrheal diseases by 50% as well as respiratory infections (2).
- As soon as your children come home from school or play, remind them to wash their hands and feet before touching any food items.
- If your children are young, give them a practical lesson on how to wash their hands thoroughly, and not just wet them with water. Here are the steps for it.
1. Wet your hands with clean water.
2. Apply soap and rub your hands together to lather up for about 1-2 minutes.
3. Clean in between fingers, under the nails and up to the wrist
4. Wash away the soap completely with clean water
- Dry the hands with a clean towel.
- You should also check your children’s nails and cut them regularly, as mud and dirt can get deposited under the nails and spread infections.
- Instruct your children never to put dirty hands in mouth, bite nails, or wipe their face or eyes with filthy hands.
Make it a habit for your children to wash hands before and after touching or eating food. Tell them they also need to wash their hands after:
- Using the toilet
- Being outside, riding a bike, playing in the sand, etc.
- Cleaning the house
- Cleaning their nose, sneezing or coughing
- Touching an animal, especially after they pet an animal or touch an insect
- Visiting a sick friend or relative, or returning from a hospital
Handwashing is a simple activity that takes just a few seconds of your time. But it is a highly effective way to keep germs and infections away.
3. Body hygiene for kids
One of the most important aspects of personal hygiene is taking care of your body. Body hygiene is about keeping every part of your body clean to stay healthy and presentable. Healthy body hygiene habits include taking care of the skin, hair, feet, and the pubic region.
The skin is the largest organ in the body. It covers and protects all the other organs from external elements while being exposed to different kinds of microorganisms. Accumulation of bacteria on the skin can cause body odor. So, it is necessary to teach children different ways to keep their skin clean. The infection will spread if there is a boil somewhere on the skin and the child scratches there and touches another part of the body.
Here are a few ways in which you can keep your skin clean.
- Bathing regularly
- Teach your kids to take a shower twice a day — before they head out to school after they come back. and after they come back in the evening after playing outside.
- Teach them how to clean the different parts of the body – the hands, armpits, legs, feet, groin, joints, back, belly button (navel), elbows, and knees. Show them how to do it and then let them practice it.
- Make sure that they use soap for bathing, and pat dry the body after bathing.
- Take extra care when teaching them to clean the face – make sure they clean their ears and the neck, which they may overlook.
- Children tend to finish off bathing quickly, so make sure they spend enough time taking a bath. Also, reward them every time they bathe thoroughly.
- Poor hair care in children can lead to problems like head lice, dandruff, and other scalp infections. Children should be taught to take care of hair along with their skin.
- It is important to wash the hair at least twice a week to keep it free from dirt and grease.
- When washing the hair, teach your children to wash the scalp with soap and rinse it thoroughly with clean water.
- Children are prone to getting head lice, which is a problem that should be dealt with immediately.
- Encourage your child to keep hair tied or braided, to avoid head-to-head contact with other kids who may have lice.
- Teach your children never to share personal objects like combs, pillows, and hats.
- If your girl has long hair, always tell her not to leave the hair down. Let her tie it up to prevent the accumulation of too much dirt or grime.
Ever heard of the phrase “smelly feet”? That’s what happens when the bacteria on the feet come into contact with sweat. Children who wear shoes all day, especially without socks, tend to accumulate more dirt on their feet, which the bacteria feed off. Help your children keep their feet clean with these tips.
- Instruct your child to wash their feet every time they go out and come into the house (to play or from school)
- Clean the feet properly by scrubbing with soap between the toes, the soles of the feet, and under the toenails.
- Use a clean cloth to wipe them dry.
- Encourage them to keep their shoes clean and dry. Dirty shoes have bacteria, which get transferred to the feet.
Always check and wash their socks regularly.
- If your child gets injured during play, then teach them how they can keep their wounds clean until it gets healed.
Body care also includes cleansing of the pubic region.
- For girls, the vagina is one part of the body that can clean itself, and using vaginal douches can disrupt this natural balance. Hence they are not recommended (3). Girls are more prone to develop urinary tract infections. Teach your daughter to wash around the genital region with soap and water, as she would the rest of the body. You should also talk to your young girls about how to use a tampon or a pad safely, and how often to change them for maintaining hygiene.
- Boys should be taught early on to clean their genitalia. They should gently wash the penis and scrotum every day with soap and clean, warm water. Also, if they have the foreskin, teach them to pull it back and wash underneath with warm water gently.
Not washing underneath the foreskin can lead to smegma (natural lubricant to keep the penis moist) accumulation, which can result in a foul smell. It can also become a breeding ground for bacteria that causes balanitis, which is the swelling and redness of the tip of the penis (4).
4. Health hygiene for kids
Most children tend to get affected by common colds around six to eight times a year, which is more than that of adults (7).
Therefore, it is important to teach children about health hygiene to prevent germs and bacterial infections from spreading. When your child is down with the flu or any other infectious illness, ensure that they:
- Avoid close contact with other kids – do not send your child to school or for play.
- Use a tissue to cover the mouth when they cough or sneeze to prevent germs from spreading around. Some viruses like influenza spread through droplets so teach your kid to use a cloth or a handkerchief to cover the mouth when they speak. This is especially true in winters.
- Wash their hands often. If the water is too cold to use, use a hand sanitizer.
- Do not share food, water, bedclothes, or other things that may spread germs to other children in the family.
- Maintain clean surroundings and change their clothes at least twice a day.
As your children may not be able to keep themselves and their surroundings always clean, it is your responsibility to support them.
5. Oral hygiene
Oral hygiene is as important as hand hygiene or skin hygiene in children. An unclean mouth can give out bad odor and cause cavities, which can be avoided when children have good oral hygiene. Here is how you can encourage them to keep their teeth and mouth clean.
- Make sure your child brushes twice daily, and clean even the corners of the mouth thoroughly.
- Teach them how to floss and remind them to do it each time they brush.
- Ask them to wash their mouth with water after food or after eating candies.
- Simple measures like gargling with warm salt water or a mouth wash is very effective.
- Schedule a dentist visit once every six months.
6. Hygiene at home
In addition to personal hygiene, children should also be taught to maintain hygiene when they are at home. Here are a few things you can teach them to do.
- Teach your kids to wear clean clothes every day. They may like a specific dress, t-shirt or jeans, but explain that they should wear them only if it is clean.
- Tell them to keep their surroundings clean and everything in its place.
- Make them put the bowl or plate in the sink after they eat a meal and wash their hands.
- Teach them to clean if they spill or drop something on the floor or any other surface. If your kid is too young to be able to clean it, help him do it.
- Let them follow basic toilet and bathroom cleanliness standards – they must flush the toilet after use, use the restroom supplies, throw used tissues or other garbage in the bin, etc.
You cannot teach your kids these basic personal hygiene habits overnight. Developing healthy habits is a process that takes time and should be handled patiently.
Tips For Teaching Kids About Personal Hygiene
Just telling your kids what to do will not work. It is not about getting them to do what is hygienic. It is to make personal hygiene a part of their life. An individual’s hygiene habits tell you a lot about his or her personality. Here’s how you should inculcate personal hygiene habits in your children.
1. Explain good and bad habits
Start with something they already know – good and bad. Kids know that they are supposed to do what is good and not the bad. So, list out the good and bad hygiene habits – clearly tell them what is considered good and healthy, and what is bad or unhealthy. Repeat it as many times as you can in different situations. You can reiterate these points through play – a quick quiz in the car or as they step into the bath.
Most importantly, praise them when they display good hygiene. That way, they’ll remember better.
2. Start with the basics – handwashing and bathing
Children shut their minds to things that they find overwhelming. Dumping too much information or instructions about personal hygiene will yield no results. Start with something simple like washing hands and bathing regularly and build other practices from there.
3. Use the right resources
The best way to teach a kid is by demonstration. And to do that, you need to have the right resources. If you want your child to use soap to wash hands, you need to make sure there is soap in the dispenser. The chances of your kid washing hands are better when there are supplies in stock.
4. Explain concepts of germs and bacteria
Introduce the concept of germs and bacteria early on. Tell how they can catch germs and what happens when they don’t wash them off. Kids tend to do something if they understand it better. Make sure you emphasize the importance of hygiene, but do not exaggerate so much that they develop a phobia.
5. Talk about nice smell and foul smell
Our noses can recognize a wide range of smells, and our instincts tell us which smells are good and which are bad. Kids also know, instinctively, when something smells bad. But they may not be able to label it ‘bad’. You can help them learn the difference between good and bad smells and explain that they should build good hygiene habits to keep bad or “stinky” smells away.
6. Talk about grooming
Kids who are poorly dressed may be teased, or even bullied at school. To avoid that, it is imperative that your children wear clean clothes, smell fresh, and stay clean and hygienic in school as well as at home. Talk to your kids about the different grooming activities like wearing clean, pressed clothes, combing their hair, polishing their shoes, and keeping their school and lunch bag clean and hygienic. Help them learn about grooming by practice.
7. Fun with hygiene
Kids remember something better when it is fun and makes them happy. Don’t make hygiene a dreadful topic for children. Make it fun. Try to teach them about personal hygiene in different ways, such as games, fun activities, and online games.
8. Be an example
To encourage your child to follow good hygiene practices, you must start practicing them yourself. Be an example. Do little things like washing hands, cleaning the kitchen or the table, brushing teeth, etc. together.
Personal Hygiene Activities For Kids
Children love to play and learn better through activities. Here are a few games and activities you can try to make personal hygiene fun for your kids.
1. Germ Transfer Game
Germ Transfer is a fun game that teaches how germs get transferred from one person to another. For this game, you will need some washable paint. Apply the paint to your hands without the kids looking at you and then pretend to sneeze. Then go about your way, touching everything you can with your hands and spreading the paint. Ask the kids to go to these places and touch the paint.
After the exercise, ask the children to count the number of locations the “germs” have been transferred to. Also, highlight the fact that they ‘got’ germs from you because you didn’t wash hands after sneezing.
2. Glitter Hands
Glitter Hands is a fun game that lets the kids get a little dirty. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), kids should scrub and wash hands with soap for at least 30 seconds to get rid of germs (8). To explain that, take some glitter and apply it to your child’s hands. Ask them to wash their hands now, using soap and tap water.
Glitter is naturally sticky and won’t go away with a quick rinse under the tap. It will take your kid some time to get rid of all the glitter from the hands. Tell them that like glitter, germs can only be removed by washing hands for at least 30 seconds, not just a rinse.
3. Good Habit, Bad Habit
This is a fun trivia kind of game you can play with kids anytime, anywhere. Make a list of activities that your child needs to identify as either a good habit or a bad habit. Make it a point to include your kid’s habits and remind them of what they should continue doing and what they should not. For every right answer, give them a treat or a word of praise.
4. Hygiene Charades
Charades are fun. Play charades with your family, where you or your kids will have to enact right or wrong hygiene practices. This game makes learning about hygiene fun and remembering it easier.
5. Personal Hygiene Worksheets
The internet has several personal hygiene worksheets that you can use to teach your children about it. You can use these worksheets online or print and use them as checklists.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What are the side effects of poor personal hygiene?
Lack of proper hygiene can increase the risk for infections, dermatitis, and contagious skin diseases (9).
2. What is the difference between hygiene and cleanliness?
Hygiene refers to preventing diseases by different means, including cleanliness. However, cleanliness refers to cleaning different surfaces to remove contaminants or dirt using soap, detergents, etc. (10).
Educate your children about the importance of personal hygiene from a young age since poor hygiene habits may increase their risk of exposure to diseases and infection. Consequently, you may implement hygiene practices and have your kids follow them regularly to prevent exposure to microbial diseases. Have a conversation with your children to explain the significance of hygiene and encourage them to follow good habits using the right resources. You may make it enjoyable by including fun activities that teach them about the critical aspects of personal hygiene.
2. Hygiene Fast Facts; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
3. Keeping your vagina clean and healthy; National Health Service
4. How to keep a penis clean; National Health Service
5. Removing Pubic Hair; Center for Young Women’s Health
6. Removing Pubic Hair; Young Men’s Health
7. Common Cold in Children; University of Rochester Medical Centre
8. Show Me the Science – How to Wash Your Hands; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
9. E Gauchan et al. (2015);Relation of Sociodemographics and Personal Hygiene on Different Childhood Dermatoses; NCBI
10. Hygiene and environmental health; OpenLearn Create
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Dr. Mubina Agboatwalla(MBBS, DCH, MCPS)
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