Tips for Effective Toddler Hand Washing

Tips for Effective Toddler Hand Washing

By Michelle Mady

Ah, October. We are finally all transitioned into the school year. The children have their routines down, the schedule has settled in, and it feels like we can get back to a more predictable way of living. We have figured out exactly when we need to leave the house, the best time of day to make lunches, and our schedule has been arranged in the most detailed and efficient way.

Then, I hear a sneeze. And another. Followed by a sniffle, snort, and cough. How could I be so close to having this year in full swing and loose so much ground from a cold? Of course, a sniffle isn’t just a sniffle in pandemic years, so our routines are brought to a screeching halt, and a total re-do of the week’s schedule is now on my priority to-do list.

Then, I hear a sneeze. And another. Followed by a sniffle, snort, and cough. How could I be so close to having this year in full swing and loose so much ground from a cold?

Back-to-school germs are inevitable; this is something we all understand. However, there is a simple way to get ahead of them, the best you can, and it is something that we remind people to do often.

Wash. Your. Hands.

I hear you. Children have a hard time with some of the most basic hygiene processes.  So, how are we going to be able to get them to wash their hands often enough to ward away cold and flu season?


Routines can be tough to start, but once they become, well, “routine,” people engage in these actions without much thought. Start washing hands as soon as you enter the house, before and after eating, and whenever you pass a sink. After two weeks of constant reminders, this routine will become second nature. 

Fun, Colored Soap.

There are some really fun options out there, but I have a secret to tell you. That foam soap you have already, sitting by the sink? Open it up and put in a drop or two of food coloring (more than that and skin will absorb the color – yikes!). Give it a gentle shake, and VIOLA! Fun colored foam soap. Grab a few soaps and make a rainbow of colors for children to use when washing their hands. They will be sure to always use enough soap.

Visual Steps.

OK, now we have a routine down. Fun soap? Check. But how can we make sure that their hands are getting clean? Pictures. Take a picture of each step and post it near the sinks. Pictures can include putting the water on, wetting hands, getting soap, scrub a dubbing, rinse and dry. List them near the soap for a visual reminder of how to get clean hands.

Sing Along.

A skilled child can get all the hand-washing steps done in 4.5 five seconds. That's a fact.  What better way to pass the scrubbing time than to sing a song? ABC’s, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or any familiar song will do. There are some songs that end up being the “right” amount of time, but as long as the song is fun and distracting, they will scrub as they sing along. And if you scrub for 19 seconds or 22, it is more than 4.5 and so much closer to germ free!

Set Them Up for Success.

There are a few proactive measures we can take to promote clean hands. 

  • Keeping fingernails short makes them easier to clean.
  • Sleeves that are easier to roll up can ensure children wash their whole hands and not stop too short or get soaked in the process.
  • Child-sized supplies that are easily accessible, like a stool, easily dispensed soap, and simple faucets can help foster the independence and confidence needed to support long-term hygiene habits. 

Secret Sauce.

Here it is. The No. 1 tip to keep hands clean and to ensure your children are ready, able and willing to wash hands:

Wash. Your. Hands.

Modeling behavior for children is the best way to support a skill. When you wash your hands in front of them, or note that you need to go wash them after you blow your nose, you are doing more than any of these other tips can. Modeling hand washing and leading by example is the secret sauce of ensuring this, or any other skill, is mastered.

So keep those hands clean, tissues stocked, and lots of wiggle room in your schedule for the fall and winter. Illnesses will still pop up from time to time, but fostering strong hand-washing skills is the best defense we have against this season.


About the author: Michelle is a mom of 5 children ranging in age from 5 to 15.  As a toddler and preschool teacher, she shares experiences, activities and guidance to other parents, as both a parent and as a professional early childhood educator, at any stage of their parenting journey.

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