It’s Time to Wash Your Hands

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is imperative that caregivers continue to consider measures that can prevent the spread of germs. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2020), Covid-19 is spread through respiratory droplets, such as those resulting from coughs and sneezes. Given that many children tend to either not cover their mouths when they sneeze or do so using their hands, one of the measures that can decrease the transmission of Covid-19 is adequate handwashing.

In a recent review of the literature Jess and Dozier (2020) summarized antecedent and consequence strategies that have been used to teach children handwashing. Based on findings of previous studies the authors recommended the use of a treatment package that includes modeling of the correct steps of handwashing, performance feedback, teaching a handwashing song, and immediate and frequent feedback for handwashing. Thus, below is a list of various resources and recommendations related to some of these interventions components and other strategies related to increasing handwashing:

  1. Demonstrating handwashing: parents can model the steps of handwashing using their own hands, place pictures of the various steps in their bathroom (e.g., Elmo’s handwashing steps), or show their children a video (e.g., the WHO technique).
  2. Visual feedback: parents can place one of various products on their children’s hand to simulate removal of germs. Examples of products that have been used include Glo GermTM, and nutmeg and petroleum jelly (e.g., Witt & Spencer, 2004). It is likely that body paint could also be used for this same purpose.
  3. Handwashing song: is recommended by the CDC that we wash our hands for a minimum of 20 s. Although any song lasting 20 s or more would be appropriate (e.g., singing the happy birthday song twice), it is likely that songs that also include a description of the steps of handwashing may be most helpful, especially for young children, as the song will also serve as a prompt for the various steps (e.g., “tops and bottoms”).
  4. Feedback and reinforcers: especially while children are learning to properly wash their hands, caregivers should consider providing praise and other reinforcers (e.g., stickers, prepared items) following completion of the handwashing sequence.
  5. Establish a consistent routine: the CDC (2020) recommends washing hands frequently and provides a list of key times for handwashing (e.g., before preparing food, before and after eating food). Thus, we recommend that parents make handwashing a part of various daily activities such as meal times, following usage of the toilet, after coughing and sneezing, etc.
  6. Finally, as recommended by the CDC (2020), use hand sanitizers only when handwashing is not feasible.