Ever see another kid wipe his runny nose on the back of his hand, then keep playing with your daughter? Cringe.
Kids do share a lot of germs. But you can teach children as young as 2 or 3 the habits to help them avoid catching or spreading a cold or the flu.
They will probably need some practice. "Teach them over and over," says Denver pediatrician Jerry Rubin, MD, coauthor of Naturally Healthy Kids. It's worth it.
Show your kids these five steps:
1. Wash your hands.
Hand-washing is one of the best ways to prevent colds and flu.
Help your child lather up with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. To help her know how long that is, "sing the 'Happy Birthday' song twice," says Atlanta pediatrician Jennifer Shu, MD.
Then have her rinse and dry hands well.
Let her know when to wash her hands. "I usually say wash after going to bathroom, before eating, after coming in from outside, after using a tissue, and when the hands look dirty," Shu says.
If soap and water aren't available, use hand sanitizer instead.
2. Use separate cups and utensils.
Kids often share drinks and nibbles. But when someone has a cold or the flu, that can spread viruses.
Rubin recommends never sharing food or drinks, even if no one is sick. That makes the habit stick. Remember, people are often contagious before they start coughing or sniffling.
The same goes for you. "Parents can set a good example by doing the same and practicing in front of their children," says Yvonne Maldonado, MD. She is chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.
3. Cough into your arm.
Teach your child to cough or sneeze into the crook of her arm, or inside of her elbow.
"In my opinion, the arm-crook sneeze/cough is the best public health invention since soap," says pediatrician David Hill, MD, author of Between Us Dads: A Father's Guide to Child Health.
Show your child how. They should find it simple and silly enough to copy.