By Nancy Gottesman
Turns out, potty hygiene can play an important role in helping your family stay healthy during cold and flu season—and all year long. “Teaching good toilet habits is very specific to this age group,” says Kyran Quinlan, MD, MPH, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago. Girls especially need to learn to wipe from front to back. Quinlan says he sees a quite a few cases of vulvovaginitis and other types of vaginal irritation caused by wrong-way wipes. More basic hygiene habits to help stave off cold-weather sniffles:
Wash those hands Encourage your child to suds up before eating, and after using the toilet, blowing her nose or playing outside both at home and at school. This is the simplest—and best—way to prevent illness. Germs can spread via toys, doorknobs, phones, keyboards, swings, slides and stair rails. So soap up and rub hands together under warmish water as you both sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or the Happy Birthday song—the amount of time it takes to wash away germs.
Get help from hand sanitizer You might even want to give your child a little bottle of it to take to school. New research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine has found that hand sanitizers containing ethanol (such as Purell) may be more effective at removing rhinovirus (the germ that causes many common colds) from hands than washing with plain soap and water. The jury is still out on that debate, but hand sanitizer is definitely a smart option when washing isn’t possible. Keep disinfecting wipes strategically placed at home, and help out the teacher by donating enough for the entire classroom to use.
Make a no-sharing rule That means water bottles, snacks, cups or anything else that’s been in your or any child’s mouth. And stress the importance of keeping pencils, markers and other classroom objects away from the mouth, too!
Always have a tissue Remind your child that sneezes and coughs carry germs. When anyone at home or school coughs or sneezes, kids (and adults) nearby inhale the infected droplets, and pretty soon the entire family or classroom is sick. Encourage your child to cover his nose and mouth with a tissue. No tissue around? Teach him to cough or sneeze into the crook of his elbow in that case—and to keep his hands away from his eyes and out of his mouth.
Disinfect! Rhinoviruses can live up to three hours on skin and on common household objects. The influenza virus can also survive on surfaces—for up to eight hours! Flu.gov recommends that you wash all surfaces with a general household cleaner every day when someone in the home is ill.