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Germs are everywhere, especially when you're a kid. From picking up bugs on the playground and sharing cups with friends to holding hands and touching dirty sinks in public areas, it’s likely your little one or teen has been exposed to germs and bacteria. Teaching him about cleanliness is the first step in combating illness and infections caused by harmful germs. Make learning about proper hygiene fun and a priority by enforcing healthy habits at home.
While children often view sharing as an expected behavior, it’s important for parents to set them straight when it comes to passing around germs. Teach your child basic rules about healthy habits. Basic rules may include teaching them to wash hands with soap and water, avoid touching their face with their fingers, not sharing drinks and covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough, says Dr. Jeremy Fine, board-certified internist in Southern California. Make learning about healthy habits interactive by creating flashcards or quizzes to test your child’s knowledge daily instead of offering nagging reminders.
If your toddler runs from the bathtub and whines about washing her hands before a meal, it could be because she doesn’t see Mom and Dad washing up enough. Teach her about cleanliness by setting the example and making sure your healthy habits are front and center at all times. This little push is just what she needs, says Elena Selivan, board-certified health and wellness coach in Boston. “We have to help and encourage them with flossing, brushing their teeth, washing and brushing their hair, taking baths and washing their hands before a meal,” she says. “With toddlers, it's all about setting an example, helping and being consistent.”
With teens, lessons about cleanliness are a little more challenging, says Selivan. “One has to hope that by that age, they have in fact developed strong personal hygiene habits, but hygiene at that age is such a personal issue that a lot depends on relationships between teens and their parents,” she says. As parents, it’s crucial to have regular discussions about cleanliness with your teens, especially with the onset of puberty when the need for deodorant, acne treatment and shaving come into play. “With puberty comes a whole new spectrum of personal hygiene issues, and parents and teens have to be comfortable and available to discuss these,” says Selivan. “I would not want my teenage daughter learning hygiene from her friends or searching the Internet for the answers.”
When teaching your children about cleanliness, teeth should be a primary focus. “Parents have many concerns about oral hygiene and how hygiene affects a child’s appearance and emotional development,” says Pennsylvania-based orthodontist Dr. Bryon Viechnicki. If you struggle to get your children to brush at least twice a day, Viechnicki recommends using plaque-disclosing tablets to get them excited about, and engaged with, oral hygiene. “These tablets stain plaque bright pink, so it’s easy to see the teeth that need special attention,” he says. “Kids develop a strong sense of pride about their teeth when they see how clean they can get them.”