Parents are kids’ first and most important teachers, especially in a child’s early years. We sing to them, we talk to them, we read to them. We teach them how to dress themselves and clean up their toys. We practice their alphabet and counting, their color recognition and spelling words with them. And we teach them basic manners and human interactions. Above all, though, teaching your child good personal hygiene is one of the most valuable sets of lessons you can instill. These unspoken rules of daily living will help them advance socially, at work, and in life, while keeping them healthy and safe.
Yet as any parent will tell you, teaching kids how to keep their grubby little hands clean is hard work. Parents have the ‘fun’ role of teaching their offspring how to be clean, tidy, and hygienic. Hygiene is something that you need to teach them from a young age, so that they can avoid transmittable diseases and tummy bugs.
The earlier you start to teach your child the basic rules of hygiene, the healthier they will be throughout their lives – and the easier your job will be as they get older.
Ready to get started? Here are seven basic habits of good hygiene and basic health that you can start teaching your kids as soon as they’re born.
This is a collaboration post. However, please know I stand behind everything written here, and only include links to products/services/resources I’m willing to recommend personally.
Teaching Your Child Good Personal Hygiene: Where To Start
1. Health Appointments
If you give birth in a hospital, ideally you’ll already have your first well-baby visit set up before you and your newborn are discharged. Regular medical checkups should be an important part of everyone’s life, no matter what age.
Not only can regular visits help keep small problems from becoming major health crises, but you’ll be setting your child up for a lifetime of health.
Become accustomed to going for regular visits when you’re in good health, and going to the doctor when things aren’t going well will be less intimidating. Plus you’re more likely to catch life-threatening issues (like high blood pressure, or aches and pains that turn out to be cancer) earlier, if you’re already getting preventive-care visits like routine-care visits on schedule.
RELATED POST: Finding The Right Doctor For Your Child
But teaching your child the importance of regular health checkups doesn’t stop with their well-child visits. Over time, visits with dentists opticians, and other relevant specialists should also be a part of your child’s healthy-living routine.
By taking your child(ren) to these appointments as needed throughout their childhood, you’ll be making a major investment in helping them to live a long and healthy life.
2. Food Hygiene
At some point before they set out on their own, your child will at least need to learn how to boil water and reheat food in the microwave. If you already enjoy cooking, though, there’s a good chance you’ll teach them much more than this while they’re still under your roof (and in your kitchen).
But whether you teach your child how to become a gourmet chef or not, every child needs to learn basic food hygiene, from a personal annd public health standpoint. Unhealthy food habits when preparing and eating food can lead to stomach bugs and the spread of germs. And especially given the rise of public-health scares over contaminated food in recent years, your children need to understand basic food-handling safety measures.
So teach your children these food-safety basics as soon as possible, and reinforce as needed (both through your own practices and through cooking with them) regularly throughout their growing up:
- Always wash hands, with soap and warm water, before handling/prepping food AND before eating.
- Wear an apron and cover/tie back long hair while prepping food.
- Don’t share utensils or cups with others while eating, don’t lick utensils (or your fingers) while prepping food, and don’t “double-dip.”
- Keep raw meat separate from other items, and always wash hands/all tools promptly (with soap/warm water) after handling raw meat, to avoid cross-contamination risks.
- Don’t eat raw meat or raw eggs.
- Store food at proper temperatures, and cook/reheat food to appropriate temperatures.
- Maintain clean working surfaces throughout and after all food prep. Clean counters before, (as needed) during, and after food prep. Wash and/or disinfect sponges, towels, and other surfaces regularly.
3. Hand Hygiene
As soon as your children begin using the toilet, they need to learn to wipe, flush, and wash their hands. This last one is especially tricky for young children, but it’s critical for keeping them healthy. Childhood bugs like threadworm are very common at a young age, and many of them trace back to hands not being washed.
Of course, this isn’t the only time children should wash their hands (see above). Besides washing their hands after using the toilet and before eating or handling food, children should learn early on to wash their hands
- after touching animals, whether farm animals or family pets;
- after playing outside;
- before and after playing with friends/friends’ toys;
- after they sneeze or cough (kids should also be trained to use tissues/dispose of them promptly, and to cough/sneeze into their elbow instead of their hand);
- after using/throwing away their tissues.
All of this hand-washing will go a long way toward keeping your kids from spreading viruses, bacteria, and germs to others. Teaching kids to use tissues (not fingers) on their noses, and to avoid touching their eyes/faces regularly, will also go a long way toward keeping germs that could make them sick out of their systems.
RELATED POST: How To NOT Get Sick This Winter
RELATED POST: How To Keep Your Child Healthy During Winter
4. Sleep Hygiene
Children need solid sleep to regenerate their bodies overnight. A good night’s sleep is vital for the development of a child, and yours are no different. (Nor are mine, even though they’re sometimes the biggest little insomniacs I know.)
RELATED POST: How To Get Your Kid To Go To Sleep
RELATED POST: How To Get Your Toddler To Sleep
Avoiding screen time within an hour of their bedtime, limiting your kids’ access to caffeine (especially after noon), and helping them avoid sugar before bedtime, are your most basic places to start if this is new territory for you. These three steps alone can make a huge difference in your child(ren)’s ability to sleep.
RELATED POST: Sleep Better Tonight: Five Often-Overlooked Hacks
And this is also an area where parents can do a lot to set a good example. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, do something about it. If you struggle to go to sleep, see what you can do to improve your sleep quality. You’ll feel better and be less cranky/more effective in all areas of your life, and your family will thank you.
RELATED POST: How To Get Sleep With A Newborn Baby
5. Oral Hygiene
Remember how I mentioned those dental appointments? Basic oral hygiene is a critical skill that all parents need to teach their kids, starting in their first year:
- As soon as your child’s first tooth appears, begin regular brushing with a rice-sized bit of non-fluoridated toothpaste. (Your child’s dentist will tell you when to switch to fluoridated). As their teeth come in, you can gradually move up to a pea-sized amount.
- Don’t let your child fall asleep with a bottle in their crib, and don’t allow them to have anything but water between toothbrushing and bedtime.
- Opinions differ on when your child should see the dentist for the first time – some say when their first tooth appears, some by age 2. But generally the first visit should come no later than age 3 – earlier if there is a problem.
- Until your child is 5-6, you’ll probably need to do most or all of their brushing for them. Make sure you teach them how to brush all surfaces of their teeth – not just biting surfaces, but also outsides AND insides. Get them a tooth-brushing timer to help them learn to brush for a full 2-3 minutes.
- Teach your child to brush their teeth after meals (or at least twice a day, morning and night), and after sticky or sweet snacks (candy, gummies, raisins/other dried fruit, etc.). Also teach them to avoid snacking on these things regularly between meals, unless they brush their teeth right afterward.
- Children should learn to floss by the time they can brush their own teeth. To make it easier for the girls, we let them use floss picks.
By the time kids are school-age, they should be in the habit of brushing their teeth every morning and night, as well as after sweets. (You’ll probably need to remind them, though.) Not doing so can lead to not only cavities, but also bad breath and gum disease. And of course they should know not to share toothbrushes with others.
6. Hair Hygiene
The older your kids get, the more important teaching them to care for their own hair becomes. At the very least, kids’ hair needs regular washing and (in most cases) regular conditioning. For anyone whose hair is longer than an inch or two, regular trimming will also help minimize split ends, which can make it harder to brush/comb through.
As kids get older, they need to learn to wash/condition/thoroughly rinse their own hair, how to brush/comb their own hair regularly, and eventually how to style their own hair as appropriate.
Most kids seem to go through a phase of not letting parents touch their hair at all, with the end result being a huge rat’s nest if the child has longer hair. This is unattractive, hard to manage when the kid NEEDS to look decent (e.g., Picture Day), and hard to manage when hair needs to be pulled back (e.g., sports practice or physical education class).
Teaching kids proper hair hygiene is also important for helping kids avoid dandruff, other scalp irritations, and especially lice. While these can be issues at any age, children are especially at risk. So it’s important to teach them not only to keep their combs and brushes to themselves (don’t share with friends), but also not to share hats, pillows at sleepovers, etc.
And as a parent, remember that even with impeccable hair hygiene, it can be hard to avoid an epidemic of lice going around your kid’s classroom. So if you find lice on your child, treat it promptly and thoroughly.
7. Personal Hygiene
If you’re the parent of a tween, you’ve probably been wondering when I would get to this one! Hopefully you’ve covered the above bases from an early age with your child, which will make discussing their bodies’ changing hygiene needs as they get older that much easier.
Of course, kids should learn as soon as they’re toilet-trained to change their underwear daily. But Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers can generally get away with bathing every other day, unless they had a massive diaper blow-out or got especially dirty/sweaty while playing. This can be especially helpful in winter for children who are prone to overly dry skin, eczema, and other skin problems.
But when your child starts to enter puberty, you’ll need to retrain them on a few things:
- Clean undies each day (this may need reinforcing for some who aren’t quite there yet);
- Daily bathing (or more than once if they get especially sweaty); and
- Daily deodorant (perhaps less relevant if you live outside the United States, but in the U.S. this is nonnegotiable – and again, depending on your child, this may be a more-than-once-a-day thing).
We haven’t crossed this bridge with our girls yet, but I discussed this recently with the parent of one of Kimmie’s 4th grade classmates – a 9-year-old boy who is already starting to need deodorant. If you’re in this boat, check out this hilarious piece on using Pirates of the Caribbean to teach your tweens about hygiene. It’s the best post I’ve ever read on handling this sticky subject with your growing kiddos in a way that will engage them, vs making them tune you out.
Teach your child from infancy that their health comes first, and you’ll be laying the groundwork for a long and healthy life. And imparting life-long healthy habits starts with teaching your child good personal hygiene.
If you enjoyed this post on teaching your child good personal hygiene, why not share it with others by pinning this image?