As all parents know, kids get into everything. And where there is stuff to get into, there are germs. Teaching your child good personal hygiene early can help cut down on colds, infections and absenteeism at school.

Children spend a lot of their time with other children in daycare, and school. Their immune systems are weaker because they are not fully developed, so they end up getting sick more often than adults. Teaching good personal hygiene care not only can help boost your child’s immune system, but also help protect others from contagious illnesses.

A child’s self-value can also be affected if he or she go to school dirty or smelling bad. Kids can be very unkind towards other kids who are not clean. When children start the day with clean hair, body and clothes, playmates and caregivers often respond in a more positive manner.

The most optimal way to teach children good hygiene is to make it a family ritual.

When children are very young, parents and caregivers have to make sure that they are clean, but as they begin to walk and participate in family activities they can start to learn the basics.

Education.org offers these tips for developing good personal hygiene habits:

Hand washing: Good hand washing, practiced frequently, can reduce illness and remove dirt that may contain toxins such as lead. Unwashed or improperly washed hands are the primary carriers of infections. Young children need your guidance and reminders to wash their hands before they eat and after they toilet, play outdoors or handle animals. Set up your sink with a step stool so children can start washing their hands themselves. Use liquid soap and paper towels.

Nose blowing, coughing and sneezing: Nose blowing, cough and sneezing spread germs. Children can be taught to blow their noses (always with their mouth open), dispose of the tissue and then wash their hands. They can also be taught to sneeze or cough into tissue or into their elbow. Keep plenty of tissues on hand, and discourage nose picking.

Hair: Hair that which is clean (washed at least once or twice a week) and brushed makes it easier to detect head lice and scalp rashes. Early detection allows for early treatment and reduces the chance of disease or parasites spreading to other children.

Nails: Dirt and germs often hide under fingernails. Children scratch their genitals, put their hands in their diapers, pick their noses, scratch rashes, and put their hands in their mouths. Keeping children’s nails clipped and clean reduces the spread of germs to others.

Toys: If a child has a favorite toy or blanket that gets carried around constantly, it may be full of germs from many sources. Cloth toys and blankets should be laundered regularly; plastic toys should be run through the dishwasher or dipped in a bleach solution (one tbsp. of bleach in one quart of water) daily, then allowed to air dry.

Clothes: Clothes should be clean, comfortable and appropriate for the weather.

Oral Hygiene: Tooth brushing at least once per day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing prevent gum diseases and tooth decay by reducing the build-up of decay-causing plaque. Proper tooth brushing and flossing is a learned skill, improved by practice, and in the meantime children need help from their parents and childcare providers. Regular tooth brushing times during child care will help not only help protect children’s teeth but help them learn to brush and floss.

Bathing: Although it does not usually take place at childcare, regular bathing is important and allows a child’s entire body to be examined for signs of injury, rash or sores. 

Livestrong.com has a few more helpful suggestions for helping your child get into the good hygiene mode:

Buy hygiene products that make being clean and healthy fun. Find products such as fun-colored or flavored mouthwashes, toothpastes and soaps, or products that feature your child's favorite cartoon characters or animals. This way, your children are less likely to put up a fuss when it's time to clean up. Just be sure that the products actually work.

Use music as you teach your child about hygiene. Have your child sing the ABC song as she washes her hands, so she knows how long it takes to clean them thoroughly. You can buy a musical toothbrush, which encourages children to brush until the music stops.

Be vigilant in observing and correcting your child the first few times he does certain hygiene tasks. Do not him develop wrong habits. For example, teach girls to wipe themselves from front to back when they go to the bathroom, to prevent infections.

Use books or videos that make hygiene fun by using fun characters and stories that are at a level most children can understand.

Schools can also help teach children about hygiene.

A hand and respiratory hygiene program including frequent use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer helped reduce illness caused by influenza A, and reduced the number of missed school days in elementary school children, according to a study in the November issue of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.

"Respiratory hygiene education and the regular use of hand sanitizer can be an important adjunct to influenza vaccination programs to reduce the number of influenza A infections among children," stated Samuel Stebbins of the University of Pittsburgh, author of the study.

The study went like this:

Five Pittsburgh elementary schools were assigned to receive a five-step training "cough etiquette and hand hygiene" program. In the program, called "WHACK the Flu," children were taught:

  • (W)ash or sanitize your hands often;
  • (H)ome is where you stay when you are sick;
  • (A)void touching your eyes, nose and mouth;
  • (C)over your coughs and sneezes; and
  • (K)eep your distance from sick people.

Another five schools received no special hygiene training. During the school year, children who developed a flu-like illness were tested to determine if they had influenza, and whether the cause was influenza A or B virus. In tests performed in 279 children with flu-like illness, 104 confirmed cases of influenza were identified.

The program was successful in getting kids to use hand sanitizer regularly. Average use was 2.4 times per day, compared with four recommended times (on arrival at school, before and after lunch, and when leaving school).

Schools assigned to "WHACK the Flu" had a significant 52% reduction in the rate of confirmed illness caused by influenza A.

Along with the decrease in influenza A, there was a 26% reduction in total school absences. The hygiene program also was linked to possible improvements in other school attendance measures, including a lower rate of absences during flu season.

The main lesson learned is that good hygiene promotes good health. Teaching your child the basics of taking proper care of themselves can help them begin a lifetime of  healthy  habits.