Health and safety: Discussing germs with children

By Amy Betz

Children’s literature can be a useful tool to help children understand the importance of hand washing for overall health and well-being.  Germs themselves are an abstract concept that is a challenge for many young children to understand. Many books anthropomorphize germs as a way to make this abstract concept more concrete.  When children understand why they have to do something, they are more likely to comply.

While some children delight in the idea of these silly germ characters, others may find them scary.  This may especially be true if they themselves or a family member have been sick.  The key points to emphasize with young children are the things they DO have control of in order to fight germs.  Appropriate expectations for children are sneezing and coughing into elbows and hand washing.  Handwashing for at least twenty seconds is recommended by the MN Department of Health in order to get rid of germs.  Singing a song while washing such as Happy Birthday or Row, Row, Row Your Boat helps to keep the timing right as well as a bit more fun.

The following books are also great ways to start the conversation about germs with your child:

  • Germs Are Not for Sharing by: Elizabeth Verdick
  • Germs Make Me Sick by: Melvin Berger
  • The Ten Potato Scrub by: Marjorie T. Cooke
  • Buddy Bear’s Hand Washing Troubles by: Marjorie T. Cooke
  • Your Skin and Mine by: Paul Showers
  • Wash Your Hands! by: Tony Ross
  • Oh, The Things You Can Do That Are Good For You by: Trish Rabe
  • Those Mean Nasty Dirty Downright Disgusting… But Invisible Germs by: Judith Anne Rice