Germs and Your Children

Teaching young children about hygiene and germs isn't always easy, but it is important. Helping your child understand how germs can make her sick will make it easier for you to get her to wash her hands after going potty and use a tissue when she sneezes.

Germs Lead to Diseases
It's important to teach children the association between germs and diseases. Remind them of a time when they were sick with the flu or a cold. Ask them to recount what it made them feel like and help them remember what it did to them physically. Once that illness is refreshed in their mind, tell them that germs are what caused those illnesses and can cause many others.

Try to explain what a germ is: that you can see it under a microscope; that they come in different shapes and sizes; and that there are germs on our hands, clothes and surroundings. Let your child look at her hands through a magnifying glass and point out all the wrinkles and little crevices, explaining that this is where germs can lurk. Ask them to think up places where they can pick up germs (bathroom, kitchen counter, playgrounds, sidewalks, floors, etc).

Hand Washing
Once a child understands what a germ is and where you pick it up, they should better understand the importance of washing their hands with warm soapy water. Teach them that washing their hands is the best way to prevent germs and disease.

Remember, when washing hands, that it's important to wash the entire surface of your hand (backs, palms, fingers) as well as wrists.

Teaching Children About Germs
A fun experiment will catch your child's attention and provide a good introduction to germ information.

You will need: three bowls (1/4 cup of water will go in each bowl) and three packets of yeast (and sugar if the yeast needs activation).

Fill the first bowl with boiling water, the next with room temperature water and the last with ice-cold water. Dissolve the yeast and wait for it to activate. The bowl with room-temperature water will produce the most germs. Teach them that this means germs thrive at room temperature, on hands and surfaces. You can also point out that one way to kill germs is to boil infected objects or that hot soapy water helps keep your hands germ-free.

Children as young as two years of age can be taught to bathe independently under the supervision of an adult. Explain that bathing promotes good hygiene, which in turn decreases the likelihood of diseases. Help them position shampoos and soap on the edge of the tub where they are easy to reach. This will prevent them from maneuvering to get the soap and possibly slipping.

Brushing Teeth
Use toothpastes safe for your child's age group. Since it's recommended that kids brush about three minutes, make their brushing experience more fun. Your child's favorite songs should probably last about three minutes, so provide a little radio for them to listen to music while they brush their teeth.

Also, keep toothbrushes covered in the washroom: flushing a toilet releases a spray of germ-infested toilet water that can settle on an uncovered toothbrush.

Germs and Shopping Carts
Shopping carts are dirtier than most public washrooms. This is because washrooms are identified as a germ hot spot and therefore are cleaned and disinfected daily. Most people don't recognize the potential of a shopping cart to accrue harmful germs. Grocery stores clean their shopping carts as little as a couple of times a year.

A shopping cart is exposed daily to E. Coli bacteria. Saliva, blood, fecal matter, semen and mucus have been found on cart handles. Therefore be sure to protect your child from harmful bacteria when taking a trip to the grocery store.

Food Safety
The grocery store is also a good place to teach children about germs and food. Point out those foods that can be dangerous and let your children know that raw foods carry bacteria. E. Coli bacteria can be deadly and is very hard to identify as its symptoms fit the criteria of many other diseases. When you are back at home, try a fun activity to raise awareness.

You will need: some old magazines that can be cut up (specifically food magazines); sheets of magnet (buy thin sheets that are easy to cut); a pair of scissors; glue; and a red marker

First tell your child about what foods carry most germs. Next, go through some of the magazines together and help her identify those foods. Cut out the dangerous food items as well as your child's favorite items and glue them to the magnets. Cut the magnet edges left under the pictures so that the picture surface is supported by the magnet surface. Put the 'germy' foods in one designated area and place a big red dot on it. If you don't have the magazines, you can do the same exercise with your child's drawings of safe and 'germy' foods.

This should help them exercise caution when handling bacteria-infested foods such as chicken or meat.

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