Whenever children are together, there is a chance of spreading infections. This is especially true among infants and toddlers who are likely to use their hands to wipe their noses or rub their eyes and then handle toys or touch other children.
These children then touch their noses and rub their eyes, so the virus goes from the nose or eyes of one child by way of hands or toys to the next child who then rubs his own eyes or nose. And children get sick a lot in the first several years of life as their bodies build immunity to infections.
Schools, playgrounds and childcare facilities are full of energy and fun—but they're also full of kids' germs. Any place where many kids come in contact with one another is likely to have a high level of illnesses. Unfortunately, you can't shield your child from every cold that's going around town. But you can do your best to fight sniffles, sore throats and tummy-aches by following these seven germ prevention tips.
Questions to Ask About Germs
Sick kids and daycare may go hand in hand, but there's plenty you can do to make sure your childcare centre is doing its best to keep the cold virus and flu virus -- as well as assorted bacteria -- under control. Start by asking some of these questions.
How often do employees wash hands?
The ideal centre should require employees to wash their hands as often as a doctor does -- in between touching every child.
If your childcare centre doesn't have a sink in every room, look for bottles of hand sanitiser. If employees leave the room to clean their hands, they may be less likely to do it.
How clean are the toys?
Many centres have a policy that toys are cleaned and sanitised at least once a day. However, guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that every time a toy is placed in a child's mouth, it should be set aside until it can be cleaned and disinfected.
Why do germs spread easily at child care centres?
Did you know that enrolled children and staff can take certain steps to help prevent the spread of germs at child care facilities?
Kids have an inborn behavioural habit that requires close interpersonal contact with both adults and other children. This can pose a problem when an innocent toddler invades a sick friend or teacher's personal space. Not to mention that a child's underdeveloped immune system makes them more susceptible to getting sick from germs transferred in these close encounters. Therefore, training caregivers must also be appropriate for the child care environment.
How to limit exposure to germs
Choose facilities wisely
It's important to review any school or daycare's health and safety guidelines before enrolling your child. Be sure kids are encouraged to wash their hands with soap and warm water throughout the day, especially before and after playing outside or eating food. Ask the staff how frequently they sanitise tables and toys. Ensure the area where sick kids rest is away from the rest of the group, and find out whether or not they tell all the other parents when a child is sent homesick.
Ask about vaccinations
Most states require childcare facilities to keep written records of kids' vaccinations, so ask yours if it has these documents. Also, ask if your daycare accepts children who are on "catch-up" immunisation schedules. These kids could potentially transmit illnesses to younger children who have not yet reached the vaccination age.
Vocalise your concerns
If anything ever seems amiss at school or daycare, address your concerns with the supervisors and explain your expectations for cleanliness. If the facility can't change its policies, consider choosing an alternative.
Keep a clean home
You expect your daycare provider or school staff to keep things spic and span, right? So make sure you do the same in your own home. Regularly sanitise surfaces and frequently touched areas like doorknobs and light switches. Childproofing your home can also help avoid bumps and bruises that can become infected.
Keep hands clean
Washing your hands is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Teach children to wash their hands with warm water and soap for at least as long as it takes to sing the ABC song.
Hand sanitiser is another good way to prevent germs, but be sure you sanitise safely! Only place a small amount of sanitiser in your child's hands and have them rub until dry. Take the following precautions to avoid alcohol poisoning when using hand sanitiser:
- Tell children not to put their hands in their mouth after using sanitiser
- Don't use hand sanitiser before eating
- Keep sanitiser away from children so that it isn't used without adult supervision
- Buy plain sanitiser that isn't fruity or tempting to taste
- Consider sanitisers that are not alcohol-based.
Also, show children how to cover coughs and sneeze into the crook of their elbows. While you're at it, remind them not to use their sleeve to wipe anything since it could spread those freshly-sneezed germs.
Call in sick
According to the CDC, kids shouldn't go to school or daycare with any of these symptoms: vomiting, fever above 100°F, sore throat, white spots in the back of the throat, signs of pink eye or severe phlegm-producing cough. The same goes for grown-ups, too. Set a good example and stay home when you're sick.
Remember that you can't protect your kid from everything. And in fact, a little bacteria may be good for kids; the National Institutes of Health suggests that exposure to germs may ultimately help children build stronger immune systems.
Basic hygiene at home, daycare, or school
It's impossible to protect your child from all contagious illnesses. But you can teach healthy habits to help reduce your child's risk of infections. Teach your child:
- That germs spread when people touch their eyes, nose, and mouth before washing their hands. Teach your child to cough or sneeze into their arm so that the mouth stays covered. Children should wash their hands each time they use the toilet and after they blow their nose, especially if drainage gets on their hands. Teach your child to dry their hands thoroughly after washing them. Using hand sanitisers also kills germs that can cause illness.
- Not to share hats, combs, toothbrushes, eating utensils, or other personal items with other children. Teach your child not to share food, drinks, or silverware with others.
- To use tissues and to cover the mouth when coughing or sneezing. Show your child how to hold the tissues so that drainage doesn't get on their hands. Tell your child to always throw away tissues in a trash can.
- To use only clean, dry paper towels and tissues. Teach your child not to handle tissues or paper towels used by other children.
- Not to touch other children's blood, urine, stool, or another drainage. Teach your child to tell an adult caregiver if another child is bleeding or accidentally urinates or passes a stool.
Children younger than age 2 need a caregiver's help to prevent the spread of germs. Wash your child's hands frequently, and disinfect shared toys. If your child attends daycare, closely review the policies regarding sick children and hygiene issues.
If your child becomes ill, keep them out of daycare and away from other children until the contagious period has passed. If you are unsure about how long this should be, contact your doctor.
Keep your child away from second-hand smoke. Smoke irritates the mucous membranes in your child's nose, sinuses, and lungs, making infections more likely.
How can child care centres help prevent the spread of germs?
Frequent hand washing
Hand washing is not only important for kids but caregivers as well. Studies have shown that proper handwashing is probably the best way to limit infection in child care centres.
However, keep in mind that doing it the right way is more important than doing it at all. For example, one study showed that faucet handles are among the most contaminated areas in child care centres! One option is the use of automatic faucets – for which the high cost may outweigh the benefits – but they are an effective option for helping your centre limit the spread of germs.
Clean diapering stations and restrooms
Foot-activated roll-out trash cans for diapers are great for reducing the transfer of germs on hands. It's also important to include disposable latex gloves and good sanitation practices in diapering areas to prevent infections that can cause stomach and intestinal illnesses.
Proper food storage
Make sure food storage areas are clean, and foods that can spoil at room temperature are refrigerated.
Proper food preparation.
Porous, cracked, or damaged surfaces can provide safe havens for germs to the hideout. Ensure that counters or tables for food preparation are nonporous, in good condition and located a safe distance from any diaper changing areas. These areas should always be clean to reduce the presence of germs further.
Proper ways to serve food
Children should only have contact with serving dishes, utensils and areas if necessary and should never be allowed to share their food, drinks or utensils.
Make sure caregivers have been properly trained on hygiene practices for limiting the spread of germs. Understanding how illnesses are spread and which ones to look out for can be a huge asset in infection prevention.
Because of the high employee turnover rate in the child care industry, it may be challenging for you to provide continuous training to new employees. The effort, however, is important to successfully implementing your centre's hygiene practices.
What Parents Can Do to Help Prevent the Spread of Germs
- Seek out small child care groups to limit the number of children and therefore the opportunity to spread germs.
- Ensure the chosen child care centre incorporates proper hygienic practices, especially frequent hand washing, clean diapering areas, and proper food practices.
- Follow the child care centre's guidelines for keeping children at home while they are sick.
- Look for child care centres with open-door policies so daily hygienic practices, the admission of sick children and properly cleaned facilities can be monitored.
- Have conversations with pediatricians because they have insight on which area child care centres are prone to having the most sickness.
How to Properly Clean a Child Care Center
The first step to creating a child care centre free of germs is to clean – thoroughly. All surfaces, including windows, carpets, glass, doorknobs, bathrooms and toys, should be scrubbed, washed and rinsed. Dirt can prevent sanitisers and disinfectants from working properly, so all dirt must be removed in the 'cleaning' step.
A mild detergent and water solution is best. Avoid cleaning detergents with lots of chemicals: green cleaning solutions are the best and have less effect on human health and the environment than non-green alternatives.
Choosing the right child care centre cleaning supplies is important in maintaining a healthy facility. To properly sanitise, use an appropriate sanitiser that lowers the number of germs on surfaces and objects to a safe level.
All doorknobs, railings, faucets, and eating utensils should be sanitised using antimicrobials.
Yes, sanitising is great, but it isn't a substitute for disinfecting. Any area that comes in contact with germs must be disinfected to care for children in a child care centre to be healthy. Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces and objects, including diaper changing areas, toilets, mouthed toys, water fountains.
To properly disinfect, apply a disinfecting solution to an area and allow it to air dry for a few minutes. If the area is going to be used right away after disinfection, it should be rinsed with a solution of soap and water.
Bleach is a good choice that can be used for sanitising and disinfecting and is commonly used in child care centres. Any product used to sanitise or disinfect must be registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and of course, bleach is. Bleach is a good sanitiser because it is readily available, relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and has a short killing time.
Measures to Promote Good Hygiene in Child Care:
To reduce the risk of disease in child care settings and schools, the facility should meet certain criteria that promote good hygiene.
- Are there sinks in every room, and are there separate sinks for preparing food and washing hands? Is food handled in areas separate from the toilets and diaper-changing tables?
- Are the toilets and sinks clean and readily available for the children and staff? Our disposable paper towels are used so each child will use only their towel and not share with others?
- Are toys that infants and toddlers put in their mouths sanitised before others can play with them?
- Are all doors and cabinet handles, drinking fountains, all surfaces in the toileting and diapering areas cleaned and disinfected at the end of every day?
- Are all changing tables and any potty chairs cleaned and disinfected after each use?
- Our staff and other children fully immunised, especially against the flu?
- Is food brought in from home properly stored? Is food prepared on-site properly handled?
- Is breast milk labelled and stored correctly?
- Are children and their caregivers or teachers instructed to wash their hands throughout the day, including:
- When they arrive at the facility
- Before and after handling food, feeding a child, or eating
- After using the toilet, changing a diaper, or helping a child use the bathroom (Following a diaper change, the caregiver's and child's hands should be washed, and the diaper-changing surfaces should be disinfected.)
- After helping a child wipe his nose or mouth or tending to a cut or sore
- After playing in sandboxes
- Before and after playing in water that other children use
- Before and after, staff members give medicine to a child.
- After handling wastebaskets or garbage
- After handling a pet or other animal
- Make sure your child understands good hygiene and the importance of handwashing after using the toilet and before and after eating.
- Is health consultation available to deal with outbreaks or to review policies?
The Importance of Child Care Center Cleaning
In most cases, children are at a greater risk of exposure to toxins and germs than their adult counterparts. Common cold, the flu, coughs, and sore throats are just a few of the illnesses that run rampant through child care centres. For example, it is estimated that children in child care and school settings will have as many as 8 to 12 colds – each year. In addition, children and workers in child care centres are among the most likely groups to get hepatitis A. So child care centres must do everything possible to maintain safe and clean learn-and-play spaces for children in their care.
A good way to ensure that your child care is cleaned most thoroughly and frequently is to hire cleaning services with expertise tailored to child care centre requirements. This is an added operational cost but gives you confidence in how clean your child care centre is and peace of mind knowing that your centre will not be the point of distribution for nasty germs.
The only way to prevent kids from getting sick is to wash their hands several times a day (or have their daycare provider help when you're not there) and to teach them healthy hand hygiene when they're old enough to catch on. Teaching kids to “dab,” or sneeze into their elbow, is a good one to start with.
Surfaces and objects, including toys, bottles, pacifiers, sandboxes, water tables and doorknobs, are often touched by children carrying germs. Because young children do not wash their hands on their own after toileting, eating or wiping their noses, they often spread germs.
Teach good hand washing practices. Clean and disinfect classroom materials and surfaces. Provide reminders in daily announcements about preventing the spread of germs and illnesses. Adopt healthy practices, such as safe handling of food and the use of standard precautions when handling body fluids and excretions.