By Astrid Van Den Broek
Oh, no, really brush them. You have to sneeze? Don’t forget to sneeze into your…alrighty, next time please remember to sneeze into your sleeve. You have to go to the washroom? Remember to wipe that bum! And please wash those hands. With water. And SOAP!
Sound familiar? Indeed, teaching your newly independent preschooler good hygiene is a bit, er, challenging yet critical for their well-being since healthy habits — such as proper hand washing — can keep many illnesses at bay. However, these skills don’t always come naturally and can take some tedious teaching. Here’s how you can get your child to make them part of his daily routine.
Are logistics preventing your little one from reaching around back to get everything wiped away? “Little girls especially, if they wipe from the anus to the front, they bring the germs to the vagina and into the opening of the urethra, which can lead to inflammation of the vulva and urinary tract infections,” says Dr. Danielle Grenier, medical affairs director for the Canadian Paediatric Society. “So wiping from front to back is key.” HOW TO HELP By age five, children usually have clean-up down pat but earlier in the preschool years, doing a thorough job can be a challenge, says Michele Henderson, executive director of Winnipeg’s Ashworth Children’s Centre. “We tell the three- to four-year-olds in our centre, “You start and try and we’ll have to finish,” she says. “Because at least they get some practice, but then we’ll clean them up.” You might also want to leave some flushable wet wipes on the toilet tank to guarantee all the fecal matter bits are wiped away.
Both sneezing and coughing can come on suddenly and can catch a child off guard. The result? They do it anywhere and over anything. “And this is another great way to catch a germ or a virus — by rubbing your eyes, touching your mouth, anything involving touching the face,” notes Dr. Grenier. HOW TO HELP While we used to encourage children to cover their sneezes or coughs with their hands, given the infectiousness of hands, children — and adults — are now being urged to cough or sneeze into a tissue (then throw it out). Alternatively, he should sneeze and cough into his elbow or sleeve. You can also use humour to get the point across by saying things like “Are you spraying your germs at me? You’re very good at sharing your toys but keep your germs to yourself,” explains Alyson Schafer, author of Honey I Wrecked the Kids (John Wiley & Sons). “Keep it light and notice good behaviour,” says Schafer.
Does your preschooler insist on doing it herself, “brushing” for two seconds, (usually just sucking the paste off the brush) before running off? “Children’s tooth decay is a preventable epidemic,” says Dr. Grenier. “If baby teeth get filled with cavities, they hurt. That could lead to infection and, at the end of the line, they might have to undergo anesthesia to have their teeth repaired.” HOW TO HELP Try playing dentist by laying your child’s head in your lap while you brush her teeth upside down. Using circular motions, brush her teeth for two minutes, twice a day — it may help to sing a song or set an alarm for that amount of time so she understands that’s how long it takes to clean her teeth. Schafer suggests giving your child a choice — you brush her teeth first and then she brushes for the last minute, or vice versa. “Choices like these really help unlock the power struggles we get into with our kids,” she says.
It can be tough to ensure all steps of proper hand washing — wet hands, use soap, lather for 15 seconds, rinse, pat hands dry, turn off faucet using same paper towel and dispose in garbage — are carried out with preschoolers. “Transmitting infection is our primary concern here,” says Dr. Grenier who recommends washing hands six to eight times a day. HOW TO HELP Your best bet is to be a role model. “Any adult that comes into our daycare washes their hands,” says Henderson. “And we have banners and signs showing proper hand washing procedure.” Encourage your child to wash his hands often especially after going to the bathroom, sneezing, playing outside, handling pets and before and after meals to remove the grime that attract bad bacteria. Sing the ABCs or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star while lathering up to make the task more fun.
Astrid Van Den Broek is horrified that her four-year-old daughter is passing on her nose-picking habit to her little brother.