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How to Get Kids to Wash Their Hands

Posted November 1, 2007 2:41 p.m. EDT
Updated November 12, 2007 11:19 a.m. EST

Hand washing is one of the best defenses against winter colds and flu. But it's not always at top of kids' to-do lists.

Here's some advice to get them to soap up:

- Be a good role model: "Wash your hands when you expect them to wash their hands," says Terri Khonsari, an industrial psychologist and author of "Raising a Superstar." "Children learn from what they see more than what they are told."

- Make hand washing your mantra. Stacey Kannenberg, author of the "Let's Get Ready Series," children's books that prepare kids for kindergarten and first grade, tells her daughters, 6 and 8, to wash their hands over and over again in a sing songy voice.

- Make it fun. Sing with your children while they wash their hands. Use fun soap, such as SquidSoap which stamps a child's hand with vetegable dye and doesn't come off until 20 seconds of washing. Tell them to teach hand washing to their dolls, says Khonsari.

- Tell them why it's important to wash their hands. Make it a topic at the dinner table. Mary Jo Finley, a mother of two in San Diego, tells her children "that there are bugs you can't see and you need to wash them off so you don't get sick."

- Buy step stools for the sinks. Kids like the idea of stepping up on something.

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And here are the keys to hand washing that will work, according to Dr. Marian Michaels, an infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh:

- Do wash for 20 seconds - or longer. A good guideline for children is the time it takes for them to sing their ABCs.

- Don't use really hot water. Hot water can chap hands, which can increase risk for infections.

- Don't worry about using an anti-bacterial soap unless you are at an increased risk for a skin infection.

- Keep nails clean and short. Use a nail brush to clean under the nail.

- Hand sanitizer is a great alternative. But if there are particles of dirt on your hands, it's better to use soap and water.