10 tips for the toddler that hates washing hands

So, your toddler hates washing their hands? Should you just ignore it?

Is hand washing really that important in preventing the spread of coronavirus

toddler bathing in basin

During this time of school closures and social distancing what should you be doing with your toddler

If you could teach them one thing during this time what should it be? 


Not only has it been hailed as a go to strategy for preventing the spread of coronavirus.

It is a great life skill!

Why is washing hands a great skill to teach your toddler? 


There is no time like the present for your toddler to learn to wash their hands. It has been hailed as a go-to strategy for preventing the spread of coronavirus.

However, even if we put coronavirus aside for a moment. Hand washing is something really important for kids to do throughout the day. 

According to the CDC, hand washing can prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related illnesses and 1 in 5 respiratory infections, such as a cold or the flu. 

How to wash your toddlers hands? 

The basic steps of washing hands are: 

  • Pull up sleeves
  • Wet
  • Lather
  • Scrub
  • Rinse
  • Dry

This should take your toddler at least 20-30 seconds.

How often should toddlers wash their hands?

According to unicef some of the times a toddler should be washing their hands to protect against coronavirus include: 

  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After visiting places outside the home or touching surfaces outside of the home, including playgrounds
  • Before and after eating
  • After using the toilet
  • After touching animals and pets
  • When your hands are visibly dirty 

If you are doing each of these it can work out to washing hands around 11 times a day or more. 

That’s a lot! 

Who has patience for 11+ outbursts or trying to persuade your kid to do something 11 times!

 Every. Single. Day 

I hope these tips will lessen the emotions and need for persuading when it comes to washing your toddler’s hands!

10 tips for the toddler that hates washing hands

mom washing daughters hands

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Talk about it before 

When it comes to sensory issues often our kids don’t verbalise what it actually feels like for them until we ask directly. 

Some kids might find the feeling of water like slime, it may feel like burning for another kid. 

Once you understand what it actually feels like for them you might have a better idea of some adjustments to make. So ask your toddler:

  • What does it feel like?
  • What do they prefer: warm or cold? This soap or that one?
  • What does it smell like?
angry toddler

Avoid a power struggle 

Take a moment to empathise with your kid over their experience of hand washing. 

  • Give them choices: soap, color towel, which basin 
  • Would they prefer it if you wash their hands or they do it completely independently
  • Don’t rush them: give them time to start while you stand by supporting
toddler washing dishes

Habit stacking

If you are anything like me, the day seems full enough of things to remember already. It can be hard to remember to wash yours and your toddlers hands during the day. 

An easy hack is to habit stack. Add washing hands to something you and your toddler already have a consistent routine around. 

For example: washing hands before and after meals, wash hands as soon as you come in from playing outside

Bring it down to their level 

Often we overlook that reaching over the basin while standing on a step can feel awkward or uncomfortable or even challenge our toddlers’ sense of balance which just adds another challenge to the activity. 

Try letting your toddler stand on a wider or firmer surface while washing hands. Think: a chair instead of a step 

Or lower the surface: like washing hands in a bowl on a chair or in the basin of a play kitchen

washing hand

Relook at running water

For some toddlers the way the water gushes out of the tap may trigger a sensory sensitivity. Consider washing their hands by pouring water from a jug or filling a bowl with clean water or using a wet face towel

children bathing in river

Temperature of water

Water being too hot or cold can really put a toddler off. 

Let them feel the temperature first and adjust it to what they prefer.

parent holding toddlers hand

Compensate with a mirror and modeling 

When a sensory experience is overwhelming we naturally use our other senses to help compensate or understand what’s going on. 

For example: we look in a mirror when getting our hair cut. 

It might be helpful for your child to watch you wash your hands first or to remind them that they can look in the mirror if they want.

toddler playing in water and soap

Make it fun

There are so many fun twists you can put on hand washing. 

Rough towel rub  

Germs spread more easily from wet skin than from dry skin, so drying your hands completely is an important step. 

Developmentally it’s quite a hard one for toddlers to master. That wipe they do on the towel as they rush out the door isn’t enough. 

So it’s best to help them until they have learnt how to do it. 

Some kids really enjoy the feeling of a rough rub which can “reorganise” their sensory systems

toddler washing in bucket

Add water play and messy hands into the day 

As much as, especially now with coronavirus, we need to encourage our toddlers to wash hands, it’s important that we don’t become germaphobes

Dirty and messy play are super important for kids and by getting them dirty you have another easy opportunity to wash hands. Some ideas for doing this: 

  • sensory bins
  • Oobleck
  • Finger paint  
  • Shaving cream