As coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) spreads throughout the United States, it’s important to refresh one’s memory on basic disease prevention techniques – and parents should be passing these techniques on to their children. The number one way to prevent COVID-19 - along with other diseases like the flu - is hand-washing. Frequently washing your hands using the correct technique is the best way to kill germs and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
As a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Rush University Medical Center, I recently visited the Laurance Armour Day School (LADS) - a child care facility for young children of Rush employees that also provides after-school care for children at surrounding schools - to teach preschoolers how to wash their hands correctly and to explain the importance of teaching kids about hand-washing. It’s very important for us to make sure we are teaching children how to properly wash their hands. This is the time of the year where there are many viruses going around, including the flu and many cold viruses, and as everybody has heard, this novel coronavirus. With children, a lot of them if they do have or do get it, are probably very mild in their symptoms. They may have a cold or just a mild cough and won’t get very ill. But that doesn’t mean they can’t spread germs.
The Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands for 20 seconds, humming Happy Birthday from beginning to end twice as a timer. While the happy birthday song, an easy song to remember, we created a song specifically for the children by setting lyrics about hand washing to the tune of Are you Sleeping (Brother John). These lyrics taught the kids the proper technique of hand-washing. This method included scrubbing both the top and bottoms of your hands as well as in between your fingers. The song should be sung twice, once while scrubbing your hands and a second time while rinsing your hands off. We’ve also showed students how to properly dry their hands – making sure you dry them off completely – and remembering to turn your faucet off with a paper towel.
We want to emphasize the importance of keeping kids well informed. It’s especially important during these times where social media and misinformation can create panic. You want to make sure your children are informed. So the first thing to do is listen to them so you can understand their concerns and give them the appropriate information. We recommend using calming techniques for children if they are experiencing any anxiety about getting sick. I like to use breathing techniques to calm a child who is experiencing anxiety. You don’t need to have all the answers. It is OK to say “I don’t know,” but you do want to give your kids information, and you do want to give it in a very calm way. Teaching your kids how to properly wash their hands is crucial when preventing the spread of diseases like the flu or COVID-19. In fact, we all should be washing our hands frequently, until they are clean… squeaky clean!
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Latania Logan, MD, MS, is a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
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