Hygiene concept. Man is showing dirty hands with many viruses and germs.

If nothing else, the pandemic provided an upcoming generation of students the most concrete example of why handwashing and hygiene are important habits to keep. But as William C. Miller, professor of epidemiology and senior associate dean for research at the College of Public Health at Ohio State University points out in a Washington Post feature, mentors still have plenty of room for improvement when it comes to explaining to children why exactly handwashing and avoiding virus-prone surfaces is essential.

What many kids are missing, Miller explains, is the half the message regarding the risk of spreading germs and viruses. The main objective kids have been trained to believe is that handwashing and hygiene are important so that they can protect themselves. While true and a valuable point, mentors in educational facilities — including custodians and other cleaning staff employees — can also explain to students that handwashing and safety measures protect not just themselves, but those around them who may be more prone to those same illnesses.  

“When we talk to children, we deliver the same message whether we are talking about an infection or other health choices: ‘Wear your helmet on your skateboard, otherwise you’ll split your head open’; ‘You can’t go over to Clara’s house. She’s not feeling well and you might get sick too.’ The core message is about protecting them, as individuals,” Miller says

Taking the time to explain to children the airborne droplet transmission of SARS-CoV-2, influenza and other notable illnesses — and how they can be just as likely put others at risk by not making sufficient effort to protect themselves — can go a long way to convincing kids to stop at the sink and use soap before exiting a restroom, cover their mouth when coughing, or staying home from school or other events altogether in order to protect their friends. Day-time custodians and facility employees can help contribute to this mentality with some friendly reminders as they interact with kids each day.

Here are some interesting findings on country-wide handwashing habits.