As our children head back to school, one of the most important things parents can do is make sure their kids know the basics of human hygiene. Second only to vaccination, hygiene is key to keeping your child, and yourself, healthy this school year.

Here are a few easy things that everyone from preschool to high school can master.

Wash your hands

At a minimum, do this after using the bathroom and before you eat. And since kids touch their eyes and mouths so frequently, it would be even better if hand-washing occurred more frequently.

If kids could see the germs crawling on their hands, they would be more motivated to wash! A great way to illustrate this is to wet your child's hands lightly and then place a teaspoon of colored glitter in each palm. Have him rub the glitter all over his hands to represent the germs he picks up at school. Then have him wash his hands until all the glitter is gone.

A quick rinse will not do — a light scrub for at least 30 seconds is necessary for effective hand-washing. Soap and water have been shown to prevent germ spread better than hand sanitizer, but sanitizer is an acceptable alternative for ease. If you are going to purchase supplies for your child's classroom, make liquid soap, paper towels and hand sanitizer the first items you buy.

Bathe or shower every day


Bathing daily? It's a non-negotiable "must" for school-age kids. 

By the time kids are school age, they should be bathing every day. Teens who participate in sports may need to do this twice a day. Teach children to wash their hair, underarms and private parts, as these often get skipped. Buy fun bath soaps and bodywashes to encourage cleanliness. A well-timed bath or shower can be a wonderful stress reliever, too.

Do not wear wet shoes

wet shoes

If shoes get wet, stuff them with newspaper and allow them to completely dry before wearing them again. Wearing wet shoes encourages bacterial and fungal growth on the feet. Foot odor is a sign of bacteria, so if your child's feet stink make sure shoes are dry and feet are getting washed every day with soap.

Blow your nose

blow nose

Managing mucus goes way beyond sneezing into the elbow. Mucus serves as a great conduit of viruses. When your child is congested, she will feel better faster and be less likely to pass illness on to others if she blows her nose — using a tissue, of course, not her sleeve! Most children need to be taught how to blow their noses; a really good step-by-step process for teaching nose-blowing can be found at

After hand soap, the next most important thing to donate to your child's classroom is tissues.

Prevent lice

lice inspection

Remind your children, no matter their age, not to share hairbrushes, hats or hair bands. Girls with long hair should consider braiding it, or placing it in a ponytail to make hair-to-hair contact less likely.

If there is an outbreak of lice at your school, immediately begin checking your child's head daily so that you can initiate treatment as soon as the lice set up camp in your child's head.

Trim and brush

Mandate this, no discussion. Fingernails are a great place for germs to hang out.

Long fingernails are more likely to break the skin when scratching, introducing germs into the blood stream. Trim fingernails are less appealing to bite, too.

And brush your teeth, twice a day, with toothpaste, for two minutes. In addition to healthy teeth, brushing also eliminates harmful mouth bacteria and prevents illness. More and more, we are learning that a healthy mouth leads to a healthy body. Around 7 or 8 years of age, consider adding mouthwash to the routine.

That's it, just six things. Other lessons such as avoiding putting fingers/pencils/other people, etc., in your mouth, and wearing deodorant, can be addressed on an as-needed basis. I encourage parents to keep it very basic and focus on the above interventions. They are the most important for illness prevention. As school starts, you will find your entire house is healthier if hygiene is made a priority, and your child's teacher will thank you too!

  • Dr. Pia Fenimore, of Lancaster Pediatric Associates, answers questions about children's health. You can submit questions at

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