The importance of hand washing

by Katelin Whiddon

Even if I had no idea of the dates or any current events, working in a pediatric clinic would give me the ability to know when school starts back based on the influx of sick children.

Aside from keeping your children in a bubble, the best way to combat the spread of these infections is good hand washing. In addition to good hand washing, we must also encourage children to keep hands and other items out of their mouths.

I believe that schools do a much better job these days than in the past with encouraging the use of hand sanitizer in the schools, but as parents we must also teach proper techniques to our children for hand washing with soap and water.

My 3 year old brushes her teeth much better after we talked about “sugar bugs” and germs on her teeth. Sometimes just talking to your children about the effects of not washing away the germs is helpful to encourage good habits.

Children should wash their hands before eating food; after using the restroom; after coughing, sneezing or blowing their noses; after touching trash or toys and after touching other people/animals. The appropriate length of time for hand washing is at least 20 seconds — the amount of time it takes for a child to sing “Happy Birthday” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” twice. This is a fun way children can remember how long to wash their hands.

Often children (and adults for that matter) don’t use the proper method to wash their hands. When washing, we must make sure to scrub the palms and backs of our hands, as well as in between fingers and under our fingernails. The easiest way to clean under fingernails is to scratch one palm with the fingernails of the alternate hand. To help reduce additional bacteria, the hands should be properly dried as well.

Hand washing will not only help to keep your children healthy, but it will also keep your whole home healthier. Eliminating germs from your child’s hands and bodies will cut down on what is brought home to the rest of the household. Keeping away the germs will also keep your children from missing valuable school time and learning and keep you from missing work.


A native of Conway, Katelin Whiddon is a family nurse practitioner at Central Arkansas Pediatrics. She and her husband, Daniel, have two daughters. A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, she has her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.