Cleanliness doesn't come naturally for young children -- they can be perfectly happy sitting in a germ-filled sandbox with chocolate smeared on their face and applesauce in their hair. Teaching kids the importance of cleanliness for themselves and their environment requires practicing the necessary skills. And while it's arguably easier to just "do it yourself," teaching children self-help skills, especially relating to cleanliness, is an effective way to promote the overall health of your family and the community, according to the California Child Healthcare Program.
1. Handy Germs
Even children who wash their hands after using the bathroom may not be doing a very effective job. They go too quickly, they don't scrub sufficiently or they rinse too soon. One way to highlight the importance of thorough hand-washing is to apply a substance to the children's hands that illuminates germs under a blacklight, such as GloGerm or Glitterbug. Let them see all the germs on their hands before and after washing. Any missed areas, such as between the fingers, will appear fluorescent under the light and allow you to show them the way to remove all the germs, according to the Colorado State University Extension Project Hand Washing.
2. Practice Washing
Firm pressure, scrubbing and complete coverage of the body are important elements of cleanliness. Have children help scrub themselves during bath time using soap and a washcloth while you sing a song a little song about scrubbing from the head and shoulders all the way down to the knees and toes, substitute underarms and stomach for lyrics pertaining to eyes and mouth. Washing her bottom last and placing the washcloth on the side of the tub, rather than dunking back under, will prevent spreading fecal bacteria in the water or inside other parts of her body.
3. Scrub a Surface
Wiping down a table or chair with a small spray bottle of vinegar and a paper towel lets children practice keeping their environment as clean as themselves. Even though young children aren't handling raw meat, maintaining a clean eating surface prevents the spread of contaminants and bacteria from bits of food, according to the California Children's Health Project. Teaching the individual steps is important as well; for example, show a child to how to wipe any food or crumbs from the table into her hand before spraying the vinegar. You want her to scrub not only the center of the table, but all the way out to the edges and corners as well.
4. Containing Germs
Help children understand why they must clean by demonstrating how easily germs spread. Fill a small spray bottle with clean water and several drops of blue food coloring. Spray their hands and explain that this water represents germs. Then ask them to touch the table or the doorknob and see what happens. When they correctly note that the surface becomes damp, explain germs spread the same way as the water on their hands.
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