Most elementary-school children get eight to 12 colds annually, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Luckily, teaching kids about germs can help protect them from catching and spreading bacteria and viruses at school. Here are some tips to get you started.
It's important for your kids to try not to touch their nose, face, eyes, or ears during the day, as germs can quickly and easily enter the body through these contact points.
While you're with your children, remind them to avoid touching their faces if you catch them in the act. Having your voice in the back of their heads throughout the school day will likely help cut down that sort of contact.
Keep Them Clean
Why don't you want your kids touching their faces all day? Well, because their hands also touch many surfaces that have germs on them -- tables, floors, toys, monkey bars, you name it. These are all opportunities for your child to pick up bacteria or viruses left behind by their peers.
The most effective way to stop germs from spreading is through proper handwashing using soap and warm water. This habit helps stop the spread of preventable diseases. According to the CDC, handwashing education cuts incidences of diarrhea by 31 percent and respiratory illnesses by 21 percent.
Teach your kids proper handwashing technique -- per the CDC's recommendations, that means washing for at least 20 seconds under running water. Encourage them to wash their hands before every meal, as well as after:
- Using the bathroom.
- Touching door handles, desks, cafeteria tables, or light switches.
- Handling money.
- Touching animals.
- Being around a sick child.
- Blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing.
While frequent handwashing is inarguably the best way for your kids to keep their hands as germ-free as possible, they may not always have easy access to soap and warm water. In these cases, the CDC recommends using 60-percent-alcohol hand sanitizer.
Give your kids a personal bottle to keep in their desk or backpack during the school year, and teach them how to use it properly and safely. Remember, hand sanitizers can help prevent the spread of most but not all germs, so it's important to teach them good overall habits, rather than relying on this solution as a fallback.
Vaccines are an important prevention method for everyone, young and old. They can keep your child healthy, as well as protect those around them who can't receive vaccines due to allergies or compromised immune systems.
Check with your child's pediatrician to ensure your child is up to date on their immunizations and boosters. If not, schedule them for those shots as soon as you can.
Knowledge Is Power
Teaching kids about germs and how they make people sick can help reinforce good hygiene habits. Sit down with your children and explain the basic biology of infections -- that germs are everywhere, some of them good and some of them bad, and we want to make sure the disease-causing ones don't get a chance to enter our bodies. Understanding this process will help them contextualize their good habits and stick with them.
Combined with healthy eating, regular exercise, and proper sleep, these tips for teaching kids about germs can help your child stay healthy, even when you're not there to check in while they're at school.