The flu season is upon us, reminding teachers and parents alike that preschoolers need to have good health habits. More important than academics, 3 to 5 year-olds need to master basic self-care skills, such as containing a cough, keeping hands away from one’s face, and good handwashing. These skills need to be taught, modeled and practiced every day until they are ingrained habits.
More and more people are catching on to “catching their cough” in their elbow. While holding a tissue between one’s hand and one’s mouth while coughing is sufficient, many people don’t carry tissue or can’t get one out quickly enough. Without a tissue a person gets their germs on their hands and the next items and people they touch. In preschool, we teach children to cough into the fold of their elbow if they don’t have a tissue. This is as important for adults as it is for children. It may feel awkward but compare what touches the inside of your elbow with what touches your hand. Please develop the habit of coughing into your elbow and helping your child do the same.
Another important factor for helping our children stay germ-free is teaching them to keep items off of their face, lips, and especially out of their mouth. This is a difficult lesson especially for children who seek extra sensory input. At school the rule is simple—nothing goes to the face. If it does, it is taken away immediately to be washed. We don’t do this as punishment; rather, we tell the child that the item isn’t clean anymore. It doesn’t take long for them to catch on to this rule and follow it in the classroom. You can do this at home too.
A harder rule for children to learn is to not touch their own face, or put their fingers into their mouth or nose while in the classroom. This rule needs to be reinforced consistently throughout the entire day. Often children put fingers into their mouths and noses because they have something uncomfortable going on, such as a loose tooth or a drippy nose. Please reinforce good nose and mouth hygiene through reminders.
Poor handwashing is another difficult habit to change. Many children squirt liquid soap into one dry hand and then quickly rinse it off, only getting the palm of one hand and the tips of the other fingers wet. This does nothing to get rid of germs. The soap must be rubbed into wet hands, on the back of the hands, and between the fingers. Some children are taught to say the alphabet while rubbing the soap around their hands or to sing “Happy Birthday” two times through. Whichever song you choose, teach it to your children and then continue to monitor their hand washing until it is a solidly ingrained habit. We must work together to keep all the children healthy.
Keep your child healthy by teaching, modeling, and practicing good health habits.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.