Family Life

Teaching kids proper hand hygiene helps quell winter colds

The more you look around the city, the more you see hand sanitizer dispensers: at doctors’ offices, restaurants bathrooms, workplaces, and schools. (In fact, the place where you might need them the most is the one area where you won’t find them: on the subway, but that’s clearly a larger issue!). Now heading into the brutal winter season, how do you keep your kids (and yourself) protected from picking up the rampant barrage of cold germs and viruses that flood the school halls and handrails all over the city? Every parent has her own idea and often the plan includes Purell.

“No eat, wipes,” says 3-year-old Evan Goldstein as he refuses a cookie from his father at the playground. In his short life, Evan has been trained not to eat anything unless he cleans his hands with disinfectant wipes or covers them in Purell. Some parents would admire his restraint, but could Evan be on the road to an unhealthy tolerance for germs, not to mention a harmful obsession with cleanliness?

While Evan’s mom, Stacey, carries antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer everywhere she goes, Evan’s dad, Joe, thinks a little dirt never hurt anyone. It’s a source of conflict for the Goldsteins. When we were kids, soap and water was enough. This begs the question: Have parents become overly cautious?

Dr. Anatoly Belilovsky, a pediatrician and medical director of Belilovsky Pediatrics in Brooklyn, believes that since “most colds and viruses are spread by hand-to-hand and surface contact, any of the anti-germ products are better than nothing.” He says that while soap and water still suffice for washing hands, instant sanitizers hold the attraction that anything “instant” does in today’s culture. “It’s not that we need different products in order to sanitize; it’s that we need different products to motivate us to sanitize.”

With all the talk and fear lingering around super-strain viruses and immunity, Dr. Belilovsky believes that sanitizers won’t cause super-strains of viruses to develop.

“Many people worry about the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ — that all of the sanitizing antibacterial products are preventing children from developing immunities — and a lot of research is being done on it. However, the jury is still out; there is no solid proof for the hygiene hypothesis.”

Despite this ongoing debate, doctors and parents do agree on this: One good bet to keeping your kids healthy is to educate them on proper hygiene techniques and boost their immunity with healthy food, adequate sleep, and exercise.

“Surprisingly, Evan has not really been sick in his three years,” says Stacey Goldstein. “So although I never let him eat anything without wiping his hands, and Joe sometimes does, I hope that his immunity is strong from the nutritious diet he eats, and that’s something that Joe and I agree on wholeheartedly.”

Danielle Sullivan is a writer living in New York City. Follow her on Instagram @Deewrite.

When to practice hand hygiene

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that hand hygiene is the most effective means of reducing germs and infections. Whether you choose to use hand sanitizer or regular soap and water, it is key to teach your children to practice good hand hygiene throughout the day. Children should learn to wash their hands:

• Before eating

• After using the bathroom

• Whenever they come in from outside

• After petting a cat or dog, or touching any other pet

• After they cough or sneeze into their hand or blow their nose

Remember, kids learn what they see, so it’s important for mom and dad to practice the same hygiene habits.

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