This current outbreak on novel coronavirus infection across the world has heightened concerns worldwide about catching the infection. We see lots of people wearing masks and we read of shops being out of stocks of masks and alcohol hand washes. Workplaces are running alternating shifts and trying to reduce contact between people, and some are suggesting schools should resort to online learning until the situation improves.
For many infections, be they caused by bacteria or viruses, one of the most effective ways of reducing the risk of contracting the illness is simply through hand washing. This is because many infections are spread by droplets or contamination.
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Even outside of coronavirus outbreak, getting our kids into the habit of washing their hands frequently can help to protect them from infections. However, this is easier said than done! So let’s have a look at some tips and tricks for handwashing, and also what kind of wash to use.
When should my kids wash their hands (or should I help them wash their hands)?
The easy answer is as often as possible! There are a few key occasions that we can focus on to start with:
- Before eating or touching food - We don’t want them contaminating something that they will put in their mouth, or that somebody else might eat!
- After visiting the washroom - a habit that needs to be developed
- When they return home from outside, or when they arrive at the childcare centre or school - when we’re outside we touch many things that may be contaminated with germs, such as handles on a bus or MRT, door handles, or the ground (depending on where the kids have been playing!); washing hands when we come inside is another good habit to break one more opportunity for spreading germs
- After being around sick people - this might be at childcare, it might be at home, it might be visiting a relative who is sick
- When they are sick (especially if coughing, sneezing, having diarrhoea or vomiting) then it is important to increase the frequency of handwashing; in theory you should wash your hands after every sneeze… but I don’t even see many adults managing this, so one trick is just to increase frequency during illness; your child won’t likely do this naturally, so you’ll have to help them during these times
How can I get my kid to wash his/her hands?
The next challenge is how to get your kids to wash their hands, and to wash them for long enough - the recommendations suggest at least 20 seconds, which for a kid is an eternity!
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- Lead by example - kids, at least at certain ages, like the idea of doing things the grown ups do; so if you as a parent wash your hands regularly, at all the occasions when you’d like your child to wash their hands, then this really helps to persuade your child to do the same!
- Use a song to get them to stay washing for 20 seconds - if you look online there are lots of articles suggesting song ideas; if you can’t think of anything, singing two rounds of “happy birthday” works!
- Singing makes it more fun, but you can look for other ways to make it fun and engaging; using hand wash with nice, kid-friendly packaging is one way to start. I’ve also read about parents spraying glitter on their kids hands, then challenging them to wash it all off, or using a water-soluble marker to draw on their kids hands and then wash that off! These are neat ideas to try. Another is to have a chart where they tick off or X every time they wash their hands - there can be a prize at the end, or just the sense of achievement is often enough, if endorsed by the parents
- Repetition is important to create new habits, they don’t come from telling your child once to wash their hands after visiting the washroom; so be patient, persistent and consistent - every time the occasion presents itself, remind and even demonstrate again how to wash their hands right, singing along with them!
- Education: when your child is very young, drawing a hand washing picture, or drawing simple pictures of germs as “bad guys” and hand washing as “the good guy” can help educate them as to why they are being hounded all the time to wash their hands. As they get older you can explain about germs to them, but don’t overdo it, or you will have a visitor in the middle of the night complaining they’ve had nightmares about germs!
The final point to cover is what kind of hand wash to use. For those of us who aren’t working in the medical sector, we do not need to use high-grade antiseptic washes - just regular hand wash, used for at least 20 seconds, will do fine. If we’re out, a little container of alcohol-based hand sanitiser is very handy. At home or at childcare, a gentle hand wash is best, as with frequent hand washing can dry out the skin if the wash contains harsh surfactants (these are the ingredients that do the cleaning). Soap and SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) can be drying and harsh on the skin, so it would be better use a wash with gentler ingredients. If the skin gets dry it can crack and break, and then there is a risk of infection getting inside which isn’t ideal.
At Suu Balm, we make gentle washes which are also very suitable for washing hands frequently. It contains a very gentle surfactant (called sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate which is derived from coconut) that is around 70% gentler compared to SLS, and yet it cleanses very effectively. The importance of using a gentle wash is even greater if your child has eczema, which in Singapore is quite likely, as 20% of our kids suffer from this condition.
In summary, one of the best things we can do for our kids is to teach them to wash their hands properly and frequently, and ideally using a gentle product that will be kind to their skin.
Suu Balm products can be found in most Guardian, Watsons, and Unity outlet as well as online at www.suubalm.com.
This article is contributed by Suu-Balm.