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Motivating Children to Wash Their Hands — Even When No One Is Watching

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Hand washing…really?? Do we really need to talk about handwashing and the importance of handwashing and blah, blah, blah? I don’t know about your nursing school, but way back in 1996, the first return demonstration we ever had to perform as student nurses was handwashing. So, why is this school nurse talking to other awesome school nurses about handwashing? Y’all already know why…and how…to wash your hands. You know how to teach handwashing to the children.

DON’T MISS the Bonus Tidbit Below…

And, there’s one more thing you know good-and-well: those doggone children ain’t all washing those hands, regardless of all the teaching. Why? Because of four ignorant rationales:

  1. “Handwashing? Why? All I am doing is washing my own cooties off my own hands.”
  2. “My no-no is clean, but everyone else’s is dirty.”
  3. “I don’t see any cooties on my hands, so why do I have to wash them?”
  4. “Other people ‘make’ me sick; I don’t make myself sick.”

Let me define a few terms that Nurse Kevin likes to use. Granted, I teach elementary school-aged children. And, yes…using the “proper” terms is more socially accepted terminology, but who gives a flip? These kids know what I am talking about (and they get a giggle out of it, too).

No-No (n.) – A person’s “private areas.” Everything that fits in underwear. Also known as “your stuff.”

Cooties (n.) – Gross stuff, but also stuff that makes you sick. There’s a difference.

Pee-Pee (n.) – Urine. Also known as Tee-Tee, Pee, and Tinkle.

Poo-Poo (n.) – Fecal matter. Also known as “Poop,” “Doo-Doo,” “Dookie,” and…well…“that word” may cause this site to be blocked by your district.

My Spill or My Schpiel (n.) – Nurse Kevin’s ability to go on and on and on and on without giving the person Nurse Kevin is talking to a chance to get a word in edgewise. (Nurse Kevin is a pro at this — just ask his wife.)

Excreta (n.) – Urine and fecal matter (but could include vomit, oozing sores, slobber, pink-eye drainage, mucus, boogers, and anything else that’s potentially wet and coming out of another person’s body)…
“If it’s wet and not yours, don’t touch it.” – Nurse Kevin

Go Do Your Bid-ness! or Go Do Your Business! (v.) – The act of Pee-Pee-ing or Poo-Poo-ing (see above).

Bafflegab (n.) – Long-winded, one-sided conversations where Nurse Kevin attempts to impress you by articulating his copious talents, knowledge, and the like.

Being that everyone of you awesome school nurses knows how and why to wash your hands and how and why to teach the children to wash their hands, I will not go into all that bafflegab. But, I will help you motivate the children wash their hands when there ain’t no one watchin’.

You’ve heard of “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room.” But have you heard of “Horseplayin’ in the Boy’s Room?”

My health office’s toilet has a suction that would suck a kid down into the depths of our district’s bowels (pun intended) if they got too close when they hit that chrome lever. That pot makes some serious noise. In contrast, the sink water in that bathroom makes a little whistling sound when it’s on. And the paper towel dispenser makes a loud “Clunk-a-de-clunk! Clunk-a-de-clunk! Clunk-a-de-clunk!” when paper towels are “pumped” out by the child (ONLY THREE, PLEASE!!).

A child, who may sometimes see a bathroom break as a time to cut up and turn into a knucklehead, comes down to the health office to use the toilet —mainly because some of these children are having so much fun in a room designed to receive human excreta that they actually forget to “go” while they are in there.

“Hello Nurse Kevin! I’m here to use the bathroom,” the child announces as if relaying a “Hear ye! Hear ye!” from the king. He stands there and lingers at the doorway.

“Okay. Go on and do your bid-ness (business).” I respond.

“Can I have a mint?” He actually asked for a mint…and though you are thinking right now that I would be absolutely wrong in giving this child a mint…I do it anyways.

“Put that in your pocket and eat it after you go to the bathroom.” Though there are no children in my office right at the moment, I am focused on catching up on some charting.

“Thank you, Nurse Kevin. Can I have one for my…,” He pushes his luck.

“Get on in there and take care of what you gotta do!” He smiles at my attempt to be stern.

The “click” of the door lock is followed by the “pop” of the seat being lifted against the chrome plumbing and then the sound of…well…you know what pee-pee sounds like when it’s centered into the middle of a water-filled toilet bowl.

These trio of sounds are concluded with the loud flushing sound from the toilet and then…the “click” of the door lock opening. This child opened the door and turned around to turn off the light and throw away the wrapper of the peppermint he received just a bit ago and now was enjoying.

Knowing the truth, I still asked, “Did you wash your hands?”

“Yep!” the child said. I often wonder, how do some folks do that? How does someone look you dead in the eyes and ball-faced lie to you without flinching or any other telltales?

“Boy! You come here to me right now, and let’s have a chat.” I don’t even give him a chance to speak during “my spill,” “You didn’t no more wash your hands than a man on the moon! And let me explain something to you. Do you think that every child washes their hands when they use Nurse Kevin’s toilet? (I don’t pause here…I just answer myself). NO! THEY DON’T!! And how did you lock the door? (No pause). With your hand! How did you lift the seat? (No pausing!) With your hand! How did you aim your no-no so the pee-pee would get in the water? With your hand! (I say “with your hand!” a lot here to drive the point home). How did you flush the toilet and open the door when you left that bathroom?” (This is where I paused and encouraged an answer.)

“With my hand?” he responds, as if he’s asking the question.

I’m quick here, too, “And, poor child! What did you use to put that peppermint in your mouth???”

It took a second, but when that concept “hit home” in that child’s little brain, his eyes got big like quarters! And, no joking here…that child spit that candy out of his mouth and right onto my floor.

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“Nope. That ain’t gonna do no kinda good,” I say. “You have already put someone else’s no-no cooties in your mouth!! Do you realize how gross that is!?!?!”

The child tries to rationalize what he knows is true, “Nuh-unh.”

“You can say ‘nuh-unh’ all you want, buddy…but that don’t change the fact that you licked the cooties that were once on someone else’s no-no off that piece of candy! And, even right now, those cooties are all over your hands, and in a moment your ear will itch, or you’ll pick your nose, then your teeth, and then scratch your head. And when you have to go to the bathroom, you’ll use those nasty hands that have all those cooties on them to ‘aim’ your bid-ness, and then guess where those cooties will be!” Then I drive the point home, “Child! You may think you are all clean ‘down there,’ but you’re as dirty as the day is long.” I was about to say, “Now go in there and wash your hands!” However, he was already rushing toward the sink.

Children are no different than any of us so-called adults; we are all usually motivated by the potential loss or gain of a basic human need. This child realized that when we school nurses say, “Handwashing helps control the spread of infection,” what we are really saying is, “When you wash your hands, you are washing the cooties off YOUR hands that can make YOU sick.”

Kids usually are not concerned about others getting sick; they are concerned about THEIR getting sick…generally speaking (but more universally than you’d think).

A teacher comes into my office

“Nurse Kevin. Do you have anything for sinuses? I’m miserable.” I check her temperature…Normal.

“Welcome to Idaho in the spring,” I say. We Idahoans LOVE our flowering trees…but the human nasal passages and other tubage of the human airway have yet to adapt to the bombardment of such pollen counts. I give her a bit of the “goods” I keep for my adult “patients” and a peppermint (everyone gets a peppermint when they Go See The Nurse).

“Thank you, Nurse Kevin.” She’s walking away.

I shout back, “Thank you! And there’s a good side to your having such bad and miserable allergies.”

“Yeah? So what is that?”

I smirk, “Better you than me! Better you than me!”

Joking? Kinda…but, it’s true. Right? Someone suffers, and we feel bad for them…but we’d feel “badder” if we were the one suffering. Tell me I’m lyin’. So, when it comes to our children and their handwashing…they feel that they won’t get sick because all they have “touched” was their “stuff.” And, their perspective is that their “stuff” is clean; but it ain’t. And, when we change the problem to being THEIR problem and not someone else’s problem, then you will have properly motivated the child to wash their hands. The “better-you-than-me” truth reigns. And, there’s a second part: “Better you than me, but let me make sure it doesn’t turn out to be me later.” So wash your hands!

Bonus Tidbit

I have children that live by the paradigm, “If I don’t see it, then it does not exist.” Or, “Nurse Kevin, I don’t see any dirt on my hands. Why do I have to wash them?”

To help children “see” the cooties, I have a little kit that helps me help them. First of all, follow this link (it will open a new window for three products (it’s an affiliate link)):

These are my three go-to products to help children “understand” the fundamentals of handwashing and cleaning off what they can not see.

Step 1) Take the Glo Germ Gel ( and squirt a bit in their hands — not too much. Then have them rub it in like a hand lotion.

Step 2) The Glo Germ Gel ( should be mostly invisible by now with some “pooled” up in the cuticle and wrist areas (where they didn’t rub it in well). Turn off the room light and, using the UV Portable Black Light Flashlight (, “show” them the “cooties” on their hands. The lotion with glow. You’ll see all kinds of glowing between the fingers and within the grooves and crevices of the fingers and hands.

Step 3) Turn the room light back on and have the child wash their hands like they normally would. Offer no instructions. They are not yet “ready” to hear what you have to say. The child’s vast knowledge of handwashing supersedes your lack of understanding of such a rudimentary tasks. And, when I say, “Vast knowledge,” I really mean, “Complacency.”

Step 4) The child will likely turn the water off with their “washed” hands and get a paper towel with their “washed” hands. They will likely open the door after throwing away the paper towel. Have the child return and turn off the room light. Use the UV Portable Black Light Flashlight and watch their expression. There will be some glowing that remains.

Step 5) Go back into the bathroom and turn off the light. Shine the UV Portable Black Light Flashlight on the water faucet handle, the light switch, the paper towel dispenser, and the door handle. WOW!!! COOTIES ARE EVERYWHERE, and they JUST washed their hands.

Step 6) Now they are more “open” to receive your handwashing instructions. You’ve proven two things to them: 1) They don’t know as much as you know and 2) They really could actually get someone else’s no-no cooties on their hands and…inevitably…in their eyes, mouth, nose, ear, face, and other places…including their own no-no. GROSSSSSS!!!

Step 7) What kid (even an 18-year-old) wouldn’t LOVE to get a cool Handwashing Sticker ()? So hook them up with their very own Handwashing Sticker?

Well, that’s about it. I ain’t got no more to bafflegab about. Can you believe that Nurse Kevin is done talking??

Want a nice elementary school handwashing presentation? Sure you do!! Here’s a free one from your good ol’ buddy, Nurse Kevin: ( But, you’ve got to do me a favor if you download it…sign up for Nurse Kevin’s newsletter and share this article with all the other awesome school nurses in your school district.

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Nurse Kevin
Nurse Kevin is a school nurse who takes care of school children in Southwestern Idaho. Nurse Kevin authors content for many different websites including,,,,,

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