According to our study of more than 750 people—294 of which are parents— only 14 percent of adults and 2 percent of children wash their hands after coughing or sneezing—or shaking hands with someone who just did.
The research shows that handwashing behaviors are dismal. Only one in four adults washes their hands before eating, and an astonishing one out of five fails to wash their hands after using the restroom. However, the main culprits of spreading germs are kids. According to the research, less than one in ten kids wash their hands before eating, and three out of four don’t wash their hands after using the restroom.
And while kids may not know better, their parents do. Unfortunately, parents have done little to change their children’s behavior. Nearly four out of five parents say they send their children to school when they are sick, so long as they don’t have a fever. Nearly four out of five parents say they send their children to school when they are sick, so long as they don’t have a fever. And 85 percent say they’ve caught their children “cheating” when asked to wash their hands.
The research shows that, to change handwashing behavior, parents need to combine multiple sources of influence. Beyond verbal reminders, parents need to motivate their kids, teach them skills, enlist positive peer pressure, and alter the environment—all at the same time.
TIPS for INFLUENCING YOUR CHILD’S HANDWASHING HABITS
- MOTIVATE kids—help them understand what they’re carrying on their hands by showing them vivid photos of the germs.
- TEACH kids where germs live. Make inexpensive petri dishes and use swabs to grow cultures from places kids often touch. Teach kids how to wash their hands by singing “Happy Birthday” while they scrub to ensure they’ve washed long enough.
- HARNESS PEER PRESSURE by starting a friendly competition between kids. Or invite an older sibling to remind a younger one—the best way to influence kids is to involve them in the challenge.
- REMIND kids to wash by posting signs on your fridge or in the bathroom. Place a temporary tattoo, sticker, or bandage on their hands to remind them to wash.
- REWARD kids when they wash their hands with an enticing activity or treat.
- EQUIP every child’s backpack with sanitizer that smells good or has fun packaging. Put stools near tall sinks in your home so kids can wash more easily.