Another mom, who saw my son washing up on a playdate, raved about how he'd scrubbed in like a surgeon, and I beamed with pride. Washing hands is big in our house. So if his pals ever do a halfhearted job -- putting soap on dry hands and splashing their grimy mitts under the sink for a nanosec or two -- I body-block them at the bathroom door and teach them Hand-Washing 101. In this case my obsession is spot-on: It's widely accepted that 80 percent of infectious diseases are spread through touch, which is why hand-washing is the absolute best way to stay healthy. Follow these tips.
1. Make it a habit.
As soon as your child walks in the door from anywhere, and especially before eating, ask her to head straight to the bathroom to wash up. Help her understand that bacteria are invisible so even though our hands don't look dirty, they very well still might be.
2. Wash well.
Soap up wrists and back of hands as well as between fingers and under nails for at least 20 seconds. Soap helps to remove germs but doesn't kill them; there's little proof that antibacterial versions are more effective. Germs love wet surfaces, so always dry hands thoroughly.
3. Supervise young children.
Stand over little ones as often as you can until they learn to wash their hands properly, suggests Owen Hendley, M.D., professor of pediatrics and infectious disease at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, in Charlottesville.
Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Parents magazine.