Handwashing challenges: Tips to help kids at school

The pandemic has taught us just how important frequent handwashing can be. But for some kids, especially kids who learn and think differently, this habit can be challenging. Learn reasons why handwashing can be a struggle, and get quick tips to help.

Handwashing and trouble following directions

Kids who struggle with directions may take longer to get through the process of washing hands. Or they may get up to the sink and not know what to do.

Quick tip for families

Write step-by-step directions for washing hands, in words or pictures. Or print out the picture chart below. Put a copy in the bathroom at home and another in your child’s backpack as a “cheat sheet” to use at school. You can also make a copy for the teacher to use with your child.

Washing handsPDF - 38.7 KB

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Quick tip for teachers

Show kids where they’ll be washing their hands. Demonstrate how much soap to use. Show them how to turn the water on and off with the least amount of contact. Then, show them how to dry their hands and where to throw away the paper towels. Post step-by-step directions for the entire process next to classroom and bathroom sinks.

Handwashing and trouble with focus

When kids have trouble with focus or are easily distracted, they may forget to wash their hands when they should. Or they may not spend enough time washing them. They may also not remember the daily routine or schedule the class has for washing hands.

Quick tip for families

Contact the school or teacher to find out what the classroom rules and routines for handwashing will be. Go over them with your child and make a list of handwashing rules for school. You can also make a similar list of rules for home so your child gets used to them. 

Quick tip for teachers

Clearly explain how often and in what circumstances kids need to wash their hands. Post a written and visual schedule showing handwashing times and activities that will trigger a need for extra handwashing. 

Handwashing and trouble with motor skills

Poor motor skills can make it hard for kids to physically work a soap dispenser. Faucets might be tough, too. Kids who struggle with motor planning may have a hard time knowing the sequence of steps for handwashing.

Quick tip for families

Work with your child on using pump soap, and practice as much as possible at home. To help with motor planning issues, make a chart showing all the steps involved in washing hands. You can also download the one we created, which is available above.

Quick tip for teachers

Talk with your school’s occupational therapist about what accommodations may need to be made for motor skills. Then, talk to your administrator about whether kids can bring their own easy-pump soap bottles to school and when hand sanitizer can be used instead. Ask, too, if there are plans to install auto-soap dispensers in at least one student bathroom.

Next steps

It’s important for parents and teachers to stay in touch about health and safety challenges, and how they affect kids. Families can fill out and share this back-to-school update form with their child’s teachers.

Back-to-school update: Tell teachers how your child is doingPDF - 79.9 KB

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