Parents, caregivers and peers can influence the way in which children approach personal hygiene, which will stay with them for life. Educating children on good hygiene is the best way to avoid the spread of infection and disorders and not just for childhood complaints; teaching the principles of correct hygiene at an early age can help keep individuals healthy in later life, and be taught to future generations. Principles of hygiene should be made part of everyday life and the best way for parents to teach their children about good hygiene is to lead by example.
The incidence of illness relating to areas of personal hygiene is more apparent in children as they are learning to take care of themselves and are exposed to many germs whilst in the school environment or in a play area.
It goes without saying that the teaching of good oral hygiene is essential for the young. Their milk teeth are likely to fall out and they must know how to prevent this happening to their adult teeth. Along with brushing technique, the importance of dietary influences should be explained and alternatives to sweets, biscuits and fizzy drinks should be made available.
Hand-washing is the single most important factor relating to the spread of infection, not just for children but for adults of all ages.
Children should be encouraged to wash their hands before eating, after using the toilet, after handling animals, if they are ill or if they are spending time with a newborn.
Washing is essential to avoid developing threadworms which cause itching around the anus and genitals, and are contracted from poor toilet hygiene or from animals. When a child is ready to go to school or nursery, they are expected to be able to use the toilet themselves and wash their own hands; parents and carers must make sure this is happening or infections and diseases can spread.
Athlete’s foot and ringworms are also less likely to spread if correct hand washing is achieved. Children should be taught how to effectively wash their hands, including between the fingers and under the nails; employ the use of a nail brush if needed. Drying properly is also important to prevent fungal infections from becoming worse. Children should understand the importance of these actions also, as well as using an individual towel if they have an infectious complaint.
Nail biting should be discouraged, particularly if the nails are being swallowed. The nails and nail beds offer a perfect environment for germs to live and breed. Nail biting permits the transfer of these bugs to the mouth which can then lead to the digestive tract causing many problems. An incidence of diarrhoea can badly affect a child and they can become quite ill from electrolyte imbalance and dehydration; this can happen very quickly in the young. Even if correct hand washing takes place, there will continue to be some germs under and around the nail, if left they will not normally cause any harm, but transfer to the mouth can induce problems. Keeping nails short will help to reduce the amount of germs under the nail.
A suitable hair length and style such as a bun, is a very easy way of minimising the risk of nits. These creatures are spread by contact so by reducing the amount of hair available to have contact with others will decrease the chance of transmission. Hair does not have to be washed daily as this can induce flaking of the scalp, itching and removal of the natural oils. There is no harm in bathing every day, but it is more sensible to wash the hair every other day, using a frequent use shampoo.
Children should be encouraged to wash their hands before meals and snacks, and should be discouraged from eating off the floor; this is especially important if there are pets in the house.
Using cutlery allows the child to learn table manners and will lessen the chance of the transfer of germs from the hands to the mouth.
Teaching the correct principles of hygiene should begin at as early an age as possible. It will help to prevent the spread of infections and diseases that can damage the digestive tract, respiratory tract, and the external features of the body.
Children will follow the example set to them by their carers, so adults should lead by example. Less incidence of illness means fewer absences from school and less time needed to be taken off work.
Maintaining correct hygiene will allow the child to be independent and will lessen the likelihood of bullying if they are kept clean and tidy and do not suffer from associated complaints.