What you need to know:
We can teach our children hygiene habits easily, if they see their parents practising them
When we were in primary school, one of my brothers, after spending his day playing football or climbing trees, had a smart way of dodging bathing. Whenever he was asked to bathe, his catchword was “I did not sweat.”
Our parents cared, but some were reluctant to follow through. That is how my brother always got away with a quick sprinkling of water on his head and feet before his head hit the pillow. We found my brother’s anti-bathing antics funny then, but it is unhygienic looking at it now as a parent.
In a World Vision report I accessed on www.wvi.org, it was reported that “more than 4,500 children under five die a year from diarrhoeal diseases attributed to contaminated water, poor sanitation and unhygienic practices.”
How then can parents teach personal hygiene habits to their children to keep diseases at bay and reduce the risk of infections?
Two-thirds of Ugandan households do not use soap after using the bathroom, according to the Unicef Uganda Annual Report 2019. Children should be taught to wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom, if they are eating with bare hands, if they have been playing outdoor, after they have touched their pets, after they have cleaned something, and after they have visited a sick person, to avoid bacterial infection.
Bacterial infection may lead to diarrhoea, which is one of the three childhood major killers in Uganda, killing 33 children every day.
Maintaining oral hygiene to avoid cavities, tooth decay, and bad breath is paramount. Teeth should be brushed after every meal, to remove food particles. Get children soft-bristled brushes, if they are about two years of age; these will not hurt or wash away their gums.
Dr Christopher Byakatonda, a dentist at Ntinda Medical Centre, Kampala, advises, “hold your toothbrush with fluoride toothpaste on it at an angle of 45 degrees to the teeth and with circular motion brush the outer surface; (the side of the teeth we see when someone smiles), the chewing surface (the part where the food rests and is chewed) and the inner surface (the part the tongue touches while in equilibrium) for about three minutes. Rinse with water. Change toothbrushes after every three months.
If you cannot afford a washing machine, teach your children to hand wash their clothes after they have used them once, to avoid body odour and skin infections.
Remind them not to share beddings, towels, clothing, and utensils such as basins as these expose them to skin infections such as ringworm, scabies, and STDs like candidiasis (common in boarding schools).
Towels should not be used more than thrice without washing and should be completely dry before another use because as you rub the towel on your skin, it rubs off dead skin into itself and this can be a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, yeast and mold.
Bed sheets should be laundered once a week and also ironed to kill viruses and germs that may accumulate from the moisture and skin cells contained therein.
Bathing the body
Most children I know will not like a shower at all, but you can teach them to appreciate why it important for them to bathe. Bathing removes oils and bacteria from your skin leaving you fresh and clean.
Teach them to bathe with bathing or mild soaps before going to bed (some soaps could dry or irritate the skin or kill so much of the good bacteria leaving the skin vulnerable to bad bacteria).
Pay attention to armpits, private areas, areas between the toes, and ears--because the rapid multiplication of bacteria and their breaking down of sweat into acids in these places can cause a bad odour. Use lukewarm water with a soft sponge/towel on the face because the face is a soft skin.
Some parts of their bodies, however, do not need soap to become clean such as girls’ private parts. Using soap affects natural bacteria, which can lead to bacterial vaginosis. Teach them to apply a cream, lotion or vaseline on the skin immediately after it has dried to prevent moisture loss.
If you have many people at home at the same time, bathrooms are always going to be damp because of repeated use and the large amount of water used.
Children should be taught to always dry out the bathroom floor after use so the next user does not slide and fall on a wet surface. For toilets, they should always flush after use when the toilet lid is shut, to avoid germs from flying everywhere in the toilet.
Teach them to regularly wash the bathroom walls, toilet seats, and toilet handles when wearing disposable gloves and use soaps and bleach-based disinfectants to keep the place clean. Wash your bathroom hand towels as often as you see them dirty.
Nails can harbour germs and dirt and cause infections. That is why they should be trimmed at least once a week or two when they are dry, not wet.
Teach your child to trim them by leaving at least one or two millimetres of white at the top to protect the skin.
Nail cutters are available, so let your children know they can use it anytime they need it. Children should also desist from biting their nails.