Explaining Germs To Kids

If you have a child, you know what back to school time means. That’s right, a tsunami of germs is about to come in your door. Much as we love them, little ones tend to be germ magnets. 

Kids tend to catch, on average, six to eight colds a year. With 20 or more students in the average classroom, kids can easily pick up germs that lead to colds, flu, rashes, ear infections, “the stomach bug,” and other illnesses.1 One sick child can spread an illness to an entire classroom before we know it (and let’s not forget every parent’s greatest fear — lice!)

Teaching your kids what germs are

You can tell your kids repeatedly that it is important to wash their hands, brush their teeth, and bathe, but if they don’t know why, they just think … well, that you’re just being a parent. It can be difficult to explain the need for good hygiene practices if they don’t understand what germs are and why they are bad — especially when they can’t be seen. But even young children can be taught that germs are living organisms that can grow and multiply while older children can be taught about good germs vs. bad germs and even the difference between viruses and bacteria.2 

Show them how easily germs spread

One fun way to show kids how germs spread is to use glitter. Rub your kids’ hands with glitter and let them touch different objects to show how easily the “germs” spread. Then have them wash their hands, first rinsing with plain water and then washing with soapy water, to show how they disappear after washing.2 Having a tough time convincing your little one to cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze? (Did you know that a sneeze travels up to 100 MPH and can spread 100,000 germs through the air?!1) A spray bottle filled with a little colored water and set to mist can help show how far water droplets can travel, even when we can’t see them.3 

Teach your kids not to share

Now that your kids know how easy it is for germs to spread, it is important to teach them how to avoid them:

  1. Wash your hands frequently. Washing with soap and water is best, but hand sanitizer will do in a pinch.
  2. Brush your teeth. Get your child into the habit of brushing and flossing thoroughly twice a day. 
  3. Don’t touch your mouth, face or nose. This reduces their risk for colds and flu (and pink eye!).
  4. Don’t share food and drink. Saliva and mucus can easily transmit everything from stomach viruses to hand, foot and mouth disease. 
  5. Don’t wear each other’s clothing. Hats and scarves can quickly spread head lice and ringworm.
  6. Be active. Physical activity helps strengthen the immune system and can help your child fight off infections.1

But don’t go overboard!

Hygiene is important, of course, but it is not healthy for either you or your child to become obsessive about germs. Studies by Johns Hopkins Medicine and others has shown that infants exposed to dirt, dander and germs may actually have lower rates of allergies and asthma later in life.4 Cleaning doorknobs, counters, toys, etc. frequently with soap and water, particularly during cold and flu season, will help minimize illnesses, but bleaching and sanitizing every surface is not necessary or advised — and may, in fact, leave your child less able to fight off illness.5

Stay current on vaccinations

Vaccine-preventable diseases have been making a resurgence in the U.S. despite overwhelming evidence that childhood vaccines are safe and effective. There are 10,000 to 20,000 cases of whooping cough each year, with 10 to 20 infants — many too young to be vaccinated — dying from the preventable disease.6 In 2017, there were 110,000 measles deaths globally, most of them children under 5.7 Work with your pediatrician to make sure your child is up-to-date and protected. It is your child’s best defense against these dangerous, sometimes fatal preventable diseases. 

We’re here to help

Your Health Mart® pharmacist is an important part of your health care team. From vaccinations to cold remedies, if you have questions about how to keep your family healthy, we are here to help!

Nothing herein constitutes medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, or is a substitute for professional advice. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you have questions or concerns about a medical condition.


  1. Healthline: “Pencils, Books, and Bugs: How to Keep Kids Safe from Germs at School.” https://www.healthline.com/health/right-care-right-time/pencils-books-bugs Last accessed Aug. 20, 2019.
  2. Care.com: “Teaching About Germs for Kids: Making It Fun, Making It Real, Making It Stick.” https://www.care.com/c/stories/4211/teaching-about-germs-for-kids-making-it-fun/ Last accessed Aug. 20, 2019.
  3. Baby Love: “20 Fun Ways to Teach Your Kids About Germs.” https://www.babylovenappies.com.au/blog/toddler/understanding-germs-for-kids-20-fun-ways-to-teach-your-kids-about-germs/
  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Newborns Exposed to Dirt, Dander and Germs May Have Lower Allergy and Asthma Risk.” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/newborns_exposed_to_dirt_dander_and_germs_may_have_lower_allergy_and_asthma_risk Last accessed Aug. 20, 2019.
  5. The New York Times: “Too Clean for Our Children’s Good?”https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/17/well/family/too-clean-for-our-childrens-good.html Last accessed Aug. 20, 2019.
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Five Important Reasons to Vaccinate Your Child.” https://www.vaccines.gov/getting/for_parents/five_reasons Last accessed Aug. 20, 2019.
  7. World Health Organization: Measles Fact Sheet https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/measles Last accessed Aug. 20, 2019.

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