Know the guidelines

Before you figure out how to teach your toddler to clean after potty time, it’s important to be sure you know the latest safety recommendations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are five steps to properly washing your hands:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold). Then turn off the tap and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or use an air dryer to blow them dry.

Sure, 20 seconds might seem like a lot — especially if you’ve already convinced your child to wait patiently on the toilet while they tried to pee or poop — but there are ways to make the time pass in a fun way!

Sing your way through hand washing

To teach your child how long to scrub their hands, you can use a simple song like “Happy Birthday,” “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” You’re aiming for 20 seconds’ worth of soaping up before rinsing.

Look for fun ways to teach kids hand washing

Just like any other part of potty training, teaching your toddler to wash hands can be fun too. Try these ideas:


Prepare the sink area for your toddler

Just like the toilet can be high for little legs, the bathroom sink can be tough for little arms to reach too. Make sure you have a sturdy step stool so your child can reach. Also, consider buying some hand soap with your little one in mind. Little kids love squirting foamy soap out of the pump or trying new scents and colors. And automatic hand soap dispensers can provide a fun sense of “magic.” If you’re in a place where soap and water aren’t available — like some campgrounds and parks or the dreaded porta potty! —  supervise your child as they use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent or more alcohol.

Explain why handwashing is important

Talk to your child about germs so they understand why we scrub our hands. “There are tiny yucky things we can’t see, and we want to wash them away so they can’t make us sick. See you later, germs!” Reinforce that we need to do it every time we use the potty.

Tell your toddler about other times it’s important to wash their hands too including after they blow their nose, cough or sneeze. It’s important to wash hands before eating too.

Consider your child’s potty training personality

Knowing your child’s potty training personality can help you tailor how you teach them to wash hands after going potty. Take this quick quiz to find out which personality matches your child. Then consider these tips:

  • Eager-to-please kids will love playing with the foaming soap and singing songs. Be sure to give them plenty of time to enjoy the process.
  • Cautious personalities will enjoy having “rules” on their chart — or the hand washing poster hanging near the sink — and may also enjoy using a small timer to ensure they’ve scrubbed long enough.
  • Shy kids will focus on the steps of the task. “Scrub, scrub … then comes the water.” Silliness can help a shy toddler become more flexible.
  • Free-spirited personalities will want to make playtime out of it. They’ll likely enjoy using a foam-filled sponge in the sink to “wash” a play dish or use an old toothbrush to scrub their favorite dinosaur.
  • High-energy personalities might blow a bubble with the soap or compare amounts of soap on each hand before rinsing the germs away.

While some kids will take to hand washing quickly, others will need more time. So, it’s important to assist with hand washing until you’re sure your child has gotten the hang of it — especially since it takes kids a while to learn how to wipe themselves without touching their bottoms.

As with anything, kids learn by watching. So, make sure you’re modeling good handwashing behavior too — in the kitchen and in the bathroom. Who knows? Singing with your toddler for 20 seconds might just help you develop better habits for yourself too. With our busy lifestyles, it can be tempting to rush through tasks, after all.