Teaching your toddler about germs

You send them off into daycare, into a playdate, onto a playground and you have no idea what lurks on every surface they're touching. Toddlers can move a mile a minute, and aren’t normally too concerned about cleanliness. Now that Baby is getting a little older, and a little better with things like abstract thinking, or communicating in words, it might be time to introduce them the concept of germs. There are a few different ways to illustrate this idea in simple, toddler-friendly terms so they can start to understand why being careful about germs is important.

Whether it’s because they seem bright-eyed and ready to learn about this new and different way of understanding the world around them, or just because you need a better reason to tell them to stop putting that in your mouth than, “because I said so,” you’ll know when it’s the right moment to start talking about germs. And when you do, there are a few different ways you can approach the subject.

  • Coloring books: You can order coloring books online about germs to get the conversation started, or if you’re feeling crafty, you can draw the outlines of some germy shapes yourself for Baby to color in. Once the two of you are settled into the coloring zone, you can start to talk to them about what the pictures they are working with represent,  and answer any questions they might have.
  • Websites: If screen time is something you’ve decided is okay (especially for educational purposes) the internet is full of videos that can catch your toddler’s interest, give a visual representation of microscopic germs, and start the conversation all at once.
  • Glitter: If you don’t think pictures or videos will communicate the idea of germs to your tot as well as an experience might, you can use simple art supplies to stage a demonstration. In one common method, you’ll need some safe glue and tiny amount of glitter. Begin by spreading the glue lightly all over your toddler’s hands. Sprinkle a little glitter onto their hands and explain that these are like very tiny germs that make people sick. Have them shake hands with you, have them touch the doorknob, have them pick up a plate. “See those germs are getting everywhere and can make people you or other people sick! We need to make sure we are always washing our hands because normally germs are invisible. If we wash our hands we won’t spread germs everywhere!”
  • Germs in a bowl – This is an easy one if you want to simply sit down and explain why soap is so important. Take a large clear bowl and fill with water. Add a small amount of pepper and explain that these are like the germs that can make us very sick. Take your toddler’s finger and dip it into dish-soap. Put their her finger into the dish-soap and watch the germs scatter. The power of soap is strong!

Whatever medium you use, stay patient and keep it part of the everyday conversation. Baby will start to understand how important it is in no time.

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