Clean Hands, Dirty Elbows…Healthy Kids (Article)

Flu season isn’t quite over yet, which is why it is more important than ever to prevent the spread of germs.  Teaching children the importance of washing their hands and covering their coughs correctly can protect against a myriad of illnesses ranging from the common cold to whooping cough to the flu.

Experts at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend these 4 steps to help stop the spread of germs:

  • Have your children cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when they cough or sneeze, and then put used tissues in the trash can.
  • If your child doesn’t have a tissue, have her cover her cough with the inside of her elbow (not her hands, as so many of us were taught by our parents!)
  • Have your children wash their hands often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds at each washing.
  • Teach your children to use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.

Not only is the common cold responsible for 22 million missed school days per year, but once your child is sick, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the family follows suit.  Washing your hands and covering your coughs are two important ways to stop the spread of germs. Remember, germs need us to move them around: they can’t walk or crawl on their own.

Habits are hard to break, so why not set good habits for both you and your children from the very beginning?  Teach your children the correct way to cough and sneeze, and make sure you do it the correct way as well.  Although they might not always listen the first time you tell them, repetition is a great teacher.  Washing your hands together is a great way to teach them how important the habit is.

Though it may not seem like much, these two tactics (that take only seconds to teach and practice) can help keep your children, your household, and your community healthy.  Your comments are welcome at We would love to hear from you.  Until next time.

Abbie Doelger- research intern, Davidson College

Paul Smolen- Doc Smo