Your kid’s gross habits might be making them sick

By The Health News Team | December 15, 2023
Happy child picking their nose

Let’s be honest. Kids are kind of gross.

They pick their noses. Many eat food off the floor. And most have been known to lick a handrail — or two.

What’s more, kids like to touch just about everything. And the germs attached to all those things often end up in their mouths, thanks to their sticky, little fingers.

All these gross habits can add up to a multitude of bacteria and virus exposures. And with each exposure, the risk of getting sick increases.

This is why it’s so important to teach children how to properly wash their hands — and encourage them to do so often. The Centers for Disease and Control (CDC) offers these easy steps to handwashing:

  • Wet hands with clean, running, warm or cold water.

  • Turn off the tap and apply soap.

  • Lather hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of hands, between fingers and under nails.

  • Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds, which is about the amount of time it takes to sing or hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

  • Rinse hands well under clean, running water.

  • Dry hands using a clean towel or an air dryer.

If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Make sure you cover both sides of each hand with the sanitizer, rubbing them together until they’re dry. However, it’s important to recognize that sanitizers can’t get rid of all types of germs and may not be effective at cleaning off dirt, grease or chemicals. And always supervise small children when using hand sanitizer to make sure they don’t eat, drink, or get it in their eyes.

According to the American Academy of Pediatricians, kids should wash — or sanitize, if it’s the only option — their hands:

  • Before and after helping prepare food

  • Before and after eating — including snacks

  • After a trip to the bathroom

  • Whenever they come in from playing outdoors

  • After an outing in public, where door handles, handrails and other things are touched

  • After touching an animal, such as a family pet

  • After blowing their nose

  • After sneezing or coughing if they cover their mouth with their hands

  • When someone in the household is ill

Can you really ‘pick a winner’?

When it comes to nose-picking, while the risk of transmitting outside germs is real, many experts believe this gross habit is not otherwise harmful. One study even found that picking your nose and eating what you’ve found can help prevent cavities, infection and stomach ulcers. The snot (nasal mucus) and boogers (dried pieces of nasal mucus) harvested during a nose-picking session contain protective mucus that acts as a barrier against some germs.

It’s still gross, sure, but maybe not the worst of kids’ habits. However, experts say you should encourage your children to avoid prolific nose-picking, rail-licking and other germy endeavors. Not only are they considered rude among most social circles, but you also never know what chemicals, toxins or other harmful irritants can be found amid the germs.

What’s more, the nose’s interior walls can easily get scratched when the nose is picked and lead to infection in the sores. And frequent nose-picking can cause nosebleeds.

Additional ways to keep kids healthy

Along with discouraging kids’ gross habits and washing hands regularly, to prevent illness — such as the colds, flus, COVID and RSV currently circulating — experts recommend everyone get up to date on vaccinations. Children ages 6 months and older should get an updated COVID vaccine and the annual flu shot.

Newborns and infants born during or before their first RSV season can also receive Beyfortus, an immunization to prevent RSV. Additionally, pregnant people can receive the Abryso RSV vaccine so that their body produces antibodies against RSV, which are then transferred through the placenta to their fetus.

Additional ways to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses include:

  • Improving ventilation in stuffy, indoor locations

  • Avoiding contact with people who have suspected or confirmed illness

  • People ages 2 and older wearing a face mask in crowded indoor locations, such as when traveling

  • Following the recommendations for what to do if exposed to someone with COVID-19, which include masking, testing and monitoring symptoms

  • Following recommendations for isolation when sick with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 or another illness

Learn more about children’s health; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.


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