Transcript of Get Ready Report podcast Episode 16: “Proper hand-washing keeps day care kids healthier"

Interview with Bobette Thompson, president of the National Association of Child Care Professionals.

Narrator: Kids share lots of things, including germs. For child care professionals, teaching children about proper hand-washing is one of the most important steps to prevent germs from spreading. Joining us today with the tips about the importance of hand-washing in day care centers is Bobette Thompson, president of the National Association of Child Care Professionals.

Why is hand-washing a top priority at day care centers?

Well, when we have small children, they love to share everything, as you said. A small child can touch up to 300 surfaces in less than 30 minutes. So washing our hands and keeping those germs to a minimum are very important. Germs can live up to 72 hours on some surfaces.

Are there certain surfaces that seem to get touched more often than others in day care centers?

There are, and we are constantly disinfecting and cleaning things like tables, chairs, toys, especially for smaller children that tend to put things in their mouth. Once a toy has been mouthed, we take those, disinfect them, let them air dry, before they are brought back in for all of children to play with. And obviously, toileting areas, diapering tables are disinfected every time a diaper is changed. But we spend a lot of time every day in an early education environment just keeping it clean.

Up to 72 hours is a long time. That tells me that infectious diseases must be a huge issue at day care centers.

We do have a lot of communicable things that go around. And you can pick them up anywhere — they’re not just from the preschool. They come from the cart at the grocery store or the handle at the restaurant. But once they come in, if we are not aware of it, then it can be shared before we can identify and get that child removed from the population. And by then, other children have been exposed to anything from a cold to the flu to a stomach bug. So we are very conscious. We would appreciate parents who are very aware of their children know if their child is lethargic or running a fever. And if they’re too sick, just don’t let them come because they might be sharing. Or, if they’re not sick with something communicable but are in a weakened state, they could possible catch something that a child has that we haven’t identified yet.

What are the ages typically of children in day care and are day care centers good places to teach about hand-washing?

In most states, children can begin in a preschool at six weeks of age. A lot of programs start at 2. They go up to up to kindergarten and through pre-kindergarten.
It’s the best place to teach, better than home. We know that children learn from the time they are born. And the earlier we get them in a habit, the more likely it will be a lifelong habit. We wash infants’ hands after we diaper them just so they are in that routine.
And once they become toddlers, we allow them to stand on a stool. We still wash them carefully for them. But by the time they are 2, they really are more independent. They can get the process. We put the soap in the sink down were they can reach it. And we teach them proper hand-washing. Which means they wash them in warm water, they use the appropriate amount of soap and wash them for at least 20 seconds. That is the critical factor — it’s the time they wash their hands.

So what can child care professionals do to encourage hand-washing and what kind of techniques do they use? You mentioned the 20 seconds and that sounds fun for them if you have a fun technique.

Twenty seconds is a long time to a little person. They really don’t have the concept of time. So what we have to do is to help them realize how long that is. The American Public Health Association and Softsoap have teamed to invent a Get Ready timer that goes on top of the Softsoap bottle. When it’s pressed, soap comes out and a really cute little song starts to play and that plays for 20 seconds. So the child knows when the song is over, then their hands are clean. They get two things. Number one, they get clean hands. But two, children like to be able control things. They like cause and effect. So it’s fun. So they want to do it more often. Then they get in the habit of doing it at appropriate times during the day. That helps them all stay healthier.

Do have any tips to help parents make proper hand-washing a lifetime habit for their children?

The best thing parents can do is role model. Children love to be just like mom and dad. So we need to teach the adults in our lives proper hand-washing and the 20-second rule because we don’t often wash our hands for long enough either. So, if they will get these timers and keep them home. If they use the timers when they wash their hands, let the children see that and then encourage the children to do the same. Then what we do in school what we do at home is consistent for the children then they get in that habit for their whole life. It’s a lot more fun for them if everyone’s on the same page. It also makes sense.

In addition to encouraging and teaching proper hand-washing, what can day care professionals do to encourage other healthy habits?

We work with our families and the children and do segments, sessions and lessons on healthy habits, things like proper amount of sleep, drink lots of fluid and a healthy, balanced diet. No sharing though. Although we teach kids to share in our program, we ask that not share food and drink. But that’s another thing at home, if they’re used to sharing with mom and dad and someone’s got a cold, then they’re sharing that too. We try to express to don’t share foods and drink especially during the cold flu season. We really encourage our parents, if their children are too sick, if they’ve got a something like a fever, an unexplained rash, diarrhea, vomiting or any kind of colored discharge from their nose, they should really be seen by a medical professional and at least not brought into a group care environment till that symptom is cured.

How many days do children miss each year and do parents have to miss work?

One average a child can get up six colds a year. That can be related up to 22 million school days because of illnesses. Working parents can average 17 missed workdays because of their children’s illnesses. If we all wash our hands — parents, school, children — everyone we can effectively reduce sick days from cold to flu up to 24 per cent. And those from stomach bugs up to 51 percent, which is a lot of time we can have parents being effective and children learning and healthy where they need to be. Wash your hands.

For more tips about hand-washing and how to keep your family safe visit

Interview conducted by Teddi Dineley Johnson, The Nation’s Health, APHA

Return to the Get Ready Report podcast home page