student washing hands

Hand washing 101

Back to school season means pencil boxes, binders, glue sticks and markers. It can also mean colds, flu, strep, even MRSA. When you're preparing your kids for the start of the school year, make sure you talk hygiene. The number one way to keep your kids healthy is to teach them not only how, but when to wash their hands at school.

The filthy facts

A September 2011 online survey conducted by the American Cleaning Institute evaluated attitudes and behaviors toward hand-washing. The survey, which included children 8-17 years old and their parents, found that the top three reasons kids weren't washing their hands at school as often as they should was because they don't have the time, they don't like going to the bathroom at school, and their bathrooms don't have the necessary supplies.

When to wash

Talk to your kids about the importance of washing their hands before they eat and after going to the bathroom. They should also wash after touching animals or garbage, after gym class, and after blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing. It's also a good idea to encourage your kids to wash after recess, especially if they like digging in the sand or dirt.

Soap and water vs. hand sanitizing gel

So which is better — soap and water or hand sanitizer? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says soap and water are your best bet, but if that's not possible, choose a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Whether your kids are sudsing at the sink or grabbing a squirt, make sure they take their time and scrub or rub all surfaces of their hands and fingers. If hands are visibly dirty, the CDC says hand sanitizers just plain don't work.

Become a hand washing advocate

When it comes to your kids and their health, by all means, be opinionated. We know it's not easy to rock the boat and suggest a change in school policy. Make it easier to voice your ideas by volunteering to spearhead Global Handwashing Day (Oct. 15) at your school. Then your suggestions to have kids wash with soap and water before lunch or to implement a post-recess squirt of hand sanitizer will be coming from a kindhearted volunteer and not a pushy parent!

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