Developmentally, toddlers are at a prime stage for learning how to wash their hands before and after going to the potty independently, while potty training, before and after meals and at other times of the day when they have gotten their hands soiled.
Teaching a toddler to wash their hands is as simple as letting them play in water; as water play is a favorite activity for most toddlers. A fun way to add a developmental learning moment to water play is to teach a toddler how to sing a hand washing song when playing in the water. Toddlers are fond of musical rhythms and particularly like it when the lyrics to a song are meaningful to them.
An effective way to teach a song is to use a melody the toddler is familiar with such as “Are You Sleeping”. If your toddler is not familiar with this tune, it might be a good idea to teach it before starting to teach hand washing. Once the tune is known to your toddler start singing the lyrics: “Tops and bottoms, tops and bottoms, in between, in between, all around our hands, all around our hands, makes them clean, makes them clean.” This song is perfect for teaching young toddlers what to do when washing their hands.
There are a number of other developmental skills that need to be taught to a toddler in order for them to learn to become independent in washing their hands. One of these is teaching them how to turn the water faucet on and off. After modeling this to the toddler, let them try it independently. More than likely your toddler will become an expert quickly and then you will have to watch to be sure the faucet is not left on, when it should be off.
The next thing to teach is about how to use the soft soap pump dispenser. Pump soap dispensers are easier for toddlers to use than a bar of soap. A bar of soap is slippery and difficult to hold onto. To teach your toddler how to use the pump dispenser model it for them and then let them take a turn.
Now that your toddler knows how to turn on the water and get some soap, it is time to sing them the hand washing song. When you sing this to them, do what the song says or model it for them.
When the song is over, model how to rinse until all of the bubbles are gone. When the soap bubbles are all rinsed and gone, it is time to model for your toddler how to turn the water off. Let your toddler practice this step when their bubbles are all gone.
The final step to teach a toddler about washing their hands is how to dry them. It is easier for toddlers to dry their hands with a large cloth towel than with paper towels. A regular towel is larger, soaks up water better and has a bigger surface for toddlers to use.
It is important to remember that repetition is critical if you want your child to learn how to wash their hands well. Practice and practice is what it takes. Since hand washing is seen by toddler as water play, you should not have any trouble getting them to practice.
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