As a parent, there are lots of skills you need to teach your child
to be happy, healthy and safe. One of the things that will serve them
throughout their life is how to practice healthy habits that will help them to
avoid getting sick.
While it would be unrealistic to expect to avoid colds
completely, there are steps that each of us can take to minimize our chances
When it comes to avoiding colds, good
personal hygiene is the best tool that we have available to us.
The common cold is caused by a virus
that is spread as people breathe in the virus that is release via sneezing,
coughing, or even breathing. It can also be spread via infected surfaces, where
these viruses can survive on surfaces and hands for over 18 hours. Once a
person touches an infected surface, they then proceed to rub or touch their
eyes, nose and mouth.
When you think about a child’s day at school, it becomes very clear
how colds are spread in the classroom and the playground. Sharing toys, holding
hands, and sharing a confined space with lots of other bodies help the virus to
So, it’s clear that good personal hygiene is crucial for healthy
kids. But how can you teach a child that something is important when they can’t
even see it?
Here are a few tips:
Explain the why
Bacteria and viruses are complex to explain to children. As
children grow older, they are able to have a better grasp on these ideas and
the implications that they have on their lives. Younger children, on the other
hand, need an approach that’s simple. They might not be able to understand what
a germ is or how infection works, but you can explain that germs make us sick,
which means that we can’t play or see our friends.
One great way to explain germs and colds to kids is through
educational songs and videos. YouTube is a great place to find free
age-appropriate educational videos with age-appropriate, memorable and interactive
ways to learn about germs, colds and good health. Peekaboo Kidz and SciShow Kids are both
good places to start.
Make it fun
Let’s face it: washing your hands isn’t the most entertaining task.
It can help to make the experience a little more exciting for kids.
One way to do this is by using a soap that’s colourful or shaped.
Having a ‘novelty’ factor like this can help kids get into the habit of
handwashing by giving them something to look forward to. It also helps to add a
song — it’s recommended to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, which is
roughly how long it takes to sing ‘happy birthday’ twice or sing the ABC song.
Another way to add some fun to the experience is by rewarding good
hygiene. Charts or stickers are a great way to provide positive reinforcement
for things like remembering to use a tissue, coughing or sneezing into the
inside of their elbow, or properly washing their hands.
Do it together
One of the ways to reinforce regular hand washing is to do it as a
family. One of the most important times to wash hands is before eating, so make
a point to wash up together as a family before every meal. The more normal and
routine this becomes at home, the more likely it is that your child will do it
when they’re at school or at a friend’s house.
You can also easily do this when you’re out and about by using a
small bottle of hand sanitizer and demonstrating how to use it, and how much
you need to keep your hands clean.
Remember, sharing isn’t always caring
We’re quick to teach our kids to share. After all, it teaches
important lessons like kindness, compromise and fairness. Unfortunately,
sharing can also help to spread colds.
Sharing and taking turns with toys is to be expected. However,
sharing forks, spoons, straws, knives, food, and cups can easily spread viruses
through contact. Explain to your kids that sharing these things can spread
germs, and to always remember to use their own eating and drinking utensils.
Build it into your health message
We know that eating a healthy and balanced
diet, staying active, getting plenty of
sleep and reducing stress
levels keeps us healthy and well, and the same goes for our kids.
Most parents teach their children these lessons over time, and
they’re also reinforced in school. They’re important not only for living a
healthy lifestyle but also because each of these healthy habits will also help
to keep the immune system functioning well and fight off infection.
Teaching your child about germs and personal hygiene can easily be
worked in with these messages and lessons to help equip your child with the
skills they need to live a healthy life.
Talk to the experts
If you’re having difficulty explaining colds and germs to your
kids, there’s nothing wrong with asking for some help.
Speak to your child’s teacher to find out what they’re doing at
school to teach kids good hygiene so that you can copy and complement these
activities and practices at home.
Similarly, your child’s doctor should have plenty of information on
hygiene and colds and can help you with age-appropriate ways to educate them.
Lastly, why not speak to your community pharmacist? Our pharmacists
are trained in helping to prevent and treat colds in people of all ages and are
more than happy to help you and your child.