Whether Baby is in daycare and constantly surrounded by the sneezes and sniffles of peers, or it’s flu season with some serious germs circulating, or you just want to encourage good hygiene habits, it’s never too early to teach your little one about how to stop the spread of germs.
Since it’s more likely that Baby will be open to learning such habits if they are made fun and not forced, here are a few ways you can turn “let’s stop the spread of germs” into a game:
- Handwashing is one of the most important ways for everyone – even grownups – to keep from spreading germs on a regular basis. You may already be teaching your little one to wash their hands before eating and after using the bathroom, coughing or sneezing, but it’s always a good time to reinforce that message. You can make it fun – and, most importantly, encourage the habit of washing long enough to get things clean (at least 20 seconds!) by singing a song while you wash. You might want to let your little one pick a new song to sing each time, or have one special song that you always sing when washing hands – something relatively short and sweet and that Baby is a big fan of is often a good choice. You can also let your little one focus on making bubbles, bubbles, and more bubbles with the soap or use a special hand towel to dry their hands when they‘s done washing.
- If your little one is sneezing or coughing, teach them to do so into a tissue, if there’s time to grab one, or to cover their mouth if there’s less time. It’s best to teach Baby to sneeze or cough into the crook of their arm to prevent germs from getting on their hands, where they can easily spread to other surfaces. Just what can make these sorts of behaviors fun? When blowing into a tissue, pretend to be an elephant trumpeting its trunk! You could even use your own arm to act as a trunk while Baby provides the sound effects and blows out those boogies! And when coughing or sneezing into an arm, you can reinforce the behavior by turning it into a fun dance move – maybe a few more swinging elbows can follow the first move – or pretending to be a vampire or a bird – followed up with your best vampire “ah, ah, ah” or birdie “tweet, tweet, tweet” imitation to keep things silly. You could even employ a favorite song or a rhyming saying – like “Germ-free is the way to be!” or “Cough or Sneeze? Elbow please?” – to reinforce things in a light tone.
- If you have a little one at home who is fighting off a particularly icky cold – with a nose running like a faucet and constant sneezes spraying everywhere – who might need some extra reinforcement while they&;s feeling under the weather, you might reward them with a small treat each time they uses good hygiene habits. It could be as simple as shouting out a big “Hooray for tissues!” each time Baby uses a tissue to blow their nose, or gifting them with a tiny sticker after hand washing. These little rewards can make a big difference when the stakes are high and the sneezes are all around.
One of the most important things you can do to encourage these behaviors is to be consistent. As with most things, make sure Baby sees you regularly using good hygiene behaviors, too. Maybe you don’t need the same sticker rewards, but you could say, “Look, Dada is going to make an elephant noise while I blow my nose into this tissue!” or “It’s almost time to eat dinner, so let’s go wash our hands together before we eat.” If you do these things time and time again, they’ll become good hygiene habits in no time.
- “Cover Your Cough.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August 2 2016. Retrieved January 4 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/covercough.htm.
- “Everyday Preventive Actions That Can Help Fight Germs, Like Flu.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, October 24 2016. Retrieved January 4 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/freeresources/updated/everyday-preventive-actions-8.5×11.pdf.
- “Guidance for School Administrators to Help Reduce the Spread of Seasonal Influenza in K-12 Schools.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August 5 2016. Retrieved January 4 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/school/guidance.htm.
- “Hand Washing: A Powerful Antidote to Illness” healthychildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Retrieved January 4 2017. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/prevention/Pages/Hand-Washing-A-Powerful-Antidote-to-Illness.aspx.
- “Influenza Prevention and Control: Strategies for early education and childcare programs.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, 2015. Retrieved January 4 2017. https://www.aap.org/en-us/Documents/disasters_dpac_InfluenzaHandout.pdf
- “When & How to Wash Your Hands.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, March 7 2016. Retrieved January 4 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html.