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Children’s Hygiene in Child Care

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Overtime and going home late is now a work health and safety issue

It is very important to assist children to become responsible for their own hygiene practices. There is a fine line between letting children explore their own environment in a natural way, and hence letting them get dirty; and, as a consequence, building their immune systems; and keeping the spread of infection to an absolute minimum.

The Importance of Hygiene in Child Care

I once read an article which was written by a health professional who stated that children who lived in a household which contained pets, were much healthier than those who did not. Why was this? Was it due to the fact that the children were more exposed to germs from the pets, and thus had stronger immune systems?

I do not profess to be a health professional; and incidentally have always had numerous pets in my own household; and fortunately have had relatively healthy children.

However, I do understand that when many different children are brought together in a childcare setting, that hygiene promotion should be paramount in the control of cross-contamination of infection.

Infection can be spread in many different ways, through direct physical contact, through airborne droplets or from contact with surfaces and objects.

In order to make sure that hygiene strategies are appropriate, childcare staff should stay up to date with current recommendations from health professionals for children’s hygiene.

Staff can help children to develop good hygiene habits through everyday experiences by regularly discussing hygiene rules with them, modeling appropriate practice and providing positive guidance and support. This can add to a child’s feeling of satisfaction, which can develop positive self-esteem through learning new skills such as handwashing and drying; and then through opportunities to care for themselves.

Basic hygiene practices that children should be supported to learn include:

  • Dental care
  • Handwashing and drying
  • Hygienic nose blowing, coughing and sneezing
  • Safe food handling and eating.

It is also very important that children are taught to avoid having contact with things which are potentially infectious such as faeces and body fluids.

In order to do this, a carer can ensure that their environment supports children’s hygiene. This can be done by making sure that children’s toilets and nappy change equipment are clean, well maintained, safe, accessible and easy to use.

Handwashing and Drying

It is simply not enough to ensure that all children wash their hands properly; as it is now recognized that wet hands can transfer germs quite effectively. It is very important that children’s hands should now also be properly dried as well.

Have you noticed that many public toilets are now introducing soap dispensers and reinstating paper towels and other hand drying equipment? This is due to the fact that the hot air hand dryers have now been found to be quite ineffective in properly drying people’s hands; and can be one source of cross-contamination.

Staff should discuss with children the correct times to wash and dry their hands, which include before and after meals, after going to the toilet; after wiping their nose; playing outside; playing with pets; playing in the sandpit; and after art and craft and other messy activities; as well as before preparing food.

Staff could also discuss with children the need for understanding the importance of:

  • Not coughing or sneezing into food
  • Not licking fingers while preparing food
  • Having children’s hair tied back before handling food.

The general rule of thumb is to wash your hands for the length of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”. This could also be a fun activity to become involved in while doing this.

Staff can implement the hygiene practices into their centres through the following ways:

  • Provide children with protective clothing for messy activities.
  • Have soap and sunscreen pump dispensers available for use.
  • Prevent children from sharing food and utensils, and from eating food or using utensils that have been dropped on the floor.
  • Make sure that the implementation of these activities a fun time through songs, reading materials, role play, rhymes, posters and games.
  • Have regular discussions with children regarding hygiene and its importance.
  • Display visual information for children and families about hygiene practices (as we cannot assume that these practices happen in the child’s home).

In conclusion, it is interesting to note that I also read an article which stated that whilst staff in childcare centres remain vigilant about the cleanliness of floors and work surfaces; a scraping of the walls of one childcare centre showed that there were an alarming number of germs situated there. It is an area that tends to get missed when the daily cleaning is done, and perhaps should be an imperative part of the cleaning roster.

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