Coronavirus and Children – How Can You Prevent Your Children From Spreading Coronavirus to Others?

It appears that coronavirus (COVID-19) usually causes mild symptoms in children (although there have been a few exceptions). However, children are just as likely to catch the disease as anyone else – possibly more so.

In some cases (in both children and adults) they do not show any obvious symptoms. It is therefore possible that they could be spreading the disease to others without anyone realising that they are infectious.

Coronvirus can survive on surfaces for some time (possibly for up to 3 days on smooth surfaces such as metal or glass). Children do tend to touch a lot of things with their hands. If they were to touch a surface which has been contaminated with coronavirus, it is possible that child could then transfer the virus from one surface to another on their hands, including onto door handles or onto parents’ hands.

Hygiene for children is very important; but many young children do not wash their hands regularly or adequately. This, along with other factors mentioned below, means that children (especially young children) do tend to easily spread infectious diseases to other children and the adults they are in contact with.

  • Most children spend a lot of time in close contact with other children.
  • Schools and nurseries tend to be a breeding ground for diseases such as the common cold (which is why most are currently closed).
  • Children are very physical in their behaviour: constantly touching hands and tussling.
  • Children touch a lot of things which most adults have learned not to touch.
  • Children (especially very young children) often cough and sneeze on other people.
  • Children often share toys, pens and pencils, etc.
  • Children sometimes share food, cups, water bottles and utensils with friends, siblings or parents.
Children's hands - coronavirus and children
Children’s hands – coronavirus and children

So, what can you do to reduce the chance of your children contracting coronavirus, or spreading coronavirus to yourself and others?

There are a few simple things which you can do, and they may just make the difference.

1. Teach your children to wash their hands properly and regularly

The most important thing you can do is to teach your children to regularly wash their hands with soap and rinse with warm water (and help younger children to do this properly).

It is recommended that you wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds – although with young children who may be less effective and slower, this time may need to be longer.

If it is not possible to wash their hands, they should use an alcohol-based hand gel, rubbing this over their hands until it is dry.

Many children use baby wipes to clean their hands, but most wipes do not kill viruses. So try to use an alcohol-based hand gel after cleaning hands with a wipe. Or look out for some antiviral hand wipes, but these are quite expensive.

Make sure that children thoroughly wash their hands:

  • Before preparing or touching food, cutlery or crockery
  • Before eating food or drinking
  • After visiting shops, or traveling on public transport
  • When returning home after any trip outside
  • After touching a pet or other animal
  • After visiting the toilet

Until recently we thought that maybe we had been a touch too strict on the hand washing with our son. Since he was a baby, we have always tried to ensure that he washes his hands regularly, and especially before eating. He will quite often say that he can’t pick up food because he hasn’t washed his hands, or briefly touched something in the house since he last washed his hands (which we were starting to be a little bit concerned about). But in the current situation a slightly OCD approach to hand washing is possibly a good thing.

Girl washing hands, hand washing can destroy coronavirus
Girl washing hands Source: CDC / Dawn Arlotta – Cade Martin

2. Teach your children about good hygiene

This may not be easy to do with very young children, but older children should be able to understand and do these things. The younger you start, the better; but you will need to be persistent.

Don’t touch your face

Teach your children not to touch their face (mouth, nose, eyes) with unwashed hands. Try to set an example.

Don’t eat or drink without washing hands

Teach them not to eat or drink anything without first washing their hands. Don’t let them eat or drink when walking around shops or public places.

Practise good respiratory hygiene

Teach them how to practise good respiratory hygiene, including how to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue (or with a bent elbow) when they cough or sneeze. They should dispose of the used tissue immediately and wash their hands – and you probably need to wash yours too as they will almost certainly dispose of the used tissue by handing it to you!

Good respiratory hygiene - prevent others from getting sick
Good respiratory hygiene – prevent others from getting sick

3. Teach your children to think before they touch

Studies suggest that coronaviruses may persist on surfaces for for anything from a few hours up to several days. Therefore everyone needs to be more aware of what they touch when in public places, and take steps to minimise the chance of coming in contact with the virus.

The virus can be picked up from many surfaces, but smooth, non-absorbent surfaces are worse than woven fabrics. So it is possible that children could touch a surface which has the virus on it, then transfer the virus from one surface to another on their hands. This could include the hands of a parent or grandparent, the car door, on to food, a water bottle or anything else they may touch.

Children have a natural tendency to touch everything!

Many young children have a habit of touching everything they see. This can include putting their hands into their mouth, up their nose, all over a table and then onto some food – all within the space of about 30 seconds!

Children will need to be educated about the problem and what they need to do. Young children especially will need to be closely observed, especially when in shared or public spaces.

Pay particular attention to high traffic areas, such as:

  • Doors and door handles
    A door handle will be touched by everyone who uses the door. If someone with a virus on their hand touches the handle, the virus may be left behind on the surface and could then transfer to the hand of anyone else who touches that handle.
    Try to open doors with an elbow if you can.
    If possible, don’t allow children to touch door handles.
  • Shops and supermarkets
    Large supermarkets can have thousands of people passing through in a day. Take care around shopping baskets and trolleys, checkout areas, service counters and belts. People will lean over checkouts, brush their hands over them and talk over them, which makes them prime locations for picking up diseases.
    Regularly use some antiviral hand gel or antiviral wipes if you are not able to wash your hands.
  • Chairs and Tables
    Tables and chairs in many public spaces (such as pubs, restaurants, theatres, libraries, and especially public transport) are high risk areas which are touched by lots of people. They are not always as clean as they probably should be.
    Most public places except for some shops have now been closed due to government policy, so there may now be fewer occasions where you need to consider this aspect, unless you travel on public transport.
  • Public Toilets
    Taps, toilet flush levers, sinks, door handles, door locks and catches are all places where coronavirus (as well as other viruses and bacteria) could linger.
    Take care to wash hands well (both your own and your child’s). Be aware of what you are touching and, as importantly, what your child is touching.
    If possible, try not to touch doors and door handles with your hands after washing them. Use an elbow or use a paper tissue on a door handle and then throw it away.

4. Clean shared toys and regularly used items

Items such as pens and pencils, toys and books can be great places for diseases to linger. They can be an easy way to spread diseases, especially if children share them.

Take more care when handling shared items, and remember to wash your hands afterwards.

If possible, wash any toys which are able to be washed in hot soapy water. Most plastic toys, Lego, marbles, etc. can be washed in a bucket of hot soapy water. Even some metal toys can be washed, if dried quickly afterwards. Just don’t wash anything electrical or which has a motor. (In most cases, you can wipe the outside surfaces of such toys with a soapy cloth or sponge.)
Most pens and pencils can be wiped with a soapy cloth or alcohol gel.

5. Clean shared computer keyboards, mice, tablets and phones

If someone can leave sticky fingerprints on your computer keyboard or phone, then they can just as easily leave viruses and other diseases there too.

Smartphone - your children will share your phone and share their diseases from their hands
Smartphone – your children will share your phone and share their diseases from their hands

Teach children to wash their hands before using computers, tablets, etc. – and also afterwards if a number of people share the devices.

Regularly clean keyboards and mice, tablet and phone screens and covers.

Clean these items and other areas regularly with soap and water, and possibly sanitise suitable items, with a suitable disinfectant.

Cleaning with soap can help to remove viruses and soap can actually destroy coronavirus. Regular cleaning can reduce the chance of infectious diseases spreading.

You may not be able to do all of this, but everything you do manage to do should help to reduce the risk of you and your children either contracting or spreading the virus.
However, at the moment the most important things to do are:

Regularly wash your hands with soap and water

Stay at home and avoid contact with other people as much as possible



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