With abundantly curious minds, kids often have a lot of questions for their parents!

While we can’t begin to imagine all the fun inquiries they’ve made, we’re sure one thing they are curious about is germs. What are germs? What do they look like? Do I have them? How do people get sick?

Depending on their age, you might be wondering how to explain germs in a way your kids will understand without being overwhelmed. While that can be a fine line to balance, it’s very doable and we’ve got some great recommendations for you!

What Are Germs?

The first step to correctly explaining germs and illnesses to your kids is to make sure you fully understand them yourself! The more personal knowledge you have, the better you will be able to alter the explanations to match the language your child is familiar with. 

Here’s a quick germ overview:

The term “germ” is a catchall for bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that can cause a disease or illness. These germs are microscopic, meaning they can’t be seen by the human eye or detected by your senses. 

Each type of germ flourishes in a different set of circumstances. For example, bacteria require nutrients from their environment to survive and oftentimes the human body is that environment. Bacteria mainly cause infections that can be treated by antibiotics. 

Viruses, on the other hand, are smaller than bacteria and need to use another cell’s structure to reproduce. This means they can’t survive unless they’re living inside something else. They can only live on a non-living surface for so long. When they do enter a person’s body, they cause sicknesses such as the common cold or the flu.

For more in-depth details about germs, please refer to this helpful article by Health Scope Magazine.  

The Main Goal of Germ Education

Before sitting your kiddos down, consider what you want their main takeaway to be. What do you want them to remember? This will help you form your explanation; rather than simply giving descriptions, you can center the chat around a goal. 

We recommend your main goal be to get your kids to wash their hands more often. 

Washing your hands is one of the most important steps to minimizing the spread of germs, and probably the easiest one to get your kids to do on a regular basis. 

Kids don’t need to know everything about germs — nor will they remember it all. If you can explain germs in a way that encourages them to regularly wash their hands, then your explanation is a success!

Here are the three most important concepts to get across: 

  • Why germs are bad
  • How germs are transferred
  • How to avoid germs

What Language to Use When Explaining Germs to Kids

The language you use to explain germs can switch the conversation from a confusing one to a productive one. 

Have you ever noticed how your child’s pediatrician explains shots? During your chat, aim to mimic the pediatrician’s calm, positive, and reassuring tone. Most importantly, keep it fun and get creative!

We recommend you stay away from using harsh words and concepts that might be overwhelming for them to understand. For example, instead of using the word “infecting” you can say germs “move in.”

Additionally, we encourage you to employ comparisons kids will easily understand. 

Compare Germs to Small Bugs

Consider the fact that germs are invisible to the naked eye, which is confusing for kids to comprehend. Try comparing germs to a small bug that lands on your hand, such as a gnat. Oftentimes, you don’t notice a gnat until it bites you — similar to how you don’t realize you have germs until after you are sick.

Experiment With Cheetos

When explaining how your kid can pass germs to their friends unintentionally, use Cheetos to reveal how it happens! Reference what happens after they eat Cheetos and are left with orange dust on their fingers when they don’t wash their hands. Treat your kiddos to some Cheetos to experiment and help them visualize how easy it is to spread germs.  

Play With Glitter

Similar to Cheetos, glitter is an extremely messy and easily transferable substance. This makes it the perfect substance to reflect how germs stick to all different kinds of surfaces. Not to mention, kids love glitter and will be happy to participate in this creative experiment!

For step-by-step instructions, here’s a fun video you can follow: Instruction Video

You can utilize comparisons like these for every part of your explanation. Ultimately, it’s important to use what your kids are familiar with to communicate with them — and make it fun! 

What Happens When You Catch a Germ

Another important aspect of your germ conversation is explaining the outcome to your kids. If your child can connect negative experiences they’ve had due to sickness, to germs, they will be more motivated to wash their hands. 

Explain how those times they had to miss a birthday party, not go on a playdate, or stay home from school were ultimately caused by germs. As much as you can, connect germs to the times they missed out on the fun. 

How to Prevent Spreading Germs and Catching Viruses

The last part of your germ education is connecting the dots and offering your child easy steps to prevent the spread of germs. With the knowledge that there is something they can do to not get sick, your kid will walk away from the conversation feeling more positive than negative.

Here are the steps we recommend:

  • Washing their hands after they cough or sneeze, after they use the bathroom, and before they eat. 
  • Sneezing into tissue paper and coughing into their arm.
  • Not sharing food and drink with friends. 
  • Not licking their fingers.
  • Not touching their face.

If you need to brush up on your memory, check out the proper hand-washing practice for kids. 

Quick Tip: Tell your child to sing “Happy Birthday” twice every time they wash their hands to ensure they are doing it for at least 20 seconds!

Lastly, we recommend asking your child to repeat what you said. Repetition is one of the most significant ways kids learn and it increases the longevity of their memory. 

The Importance of Germ Education for Your Kids

In truth, whether your child specifically asks about germs or not, it is extremely important to have this conversation and ensure they understand why germs are bad. 

With this knowledge, your kids can actually help you minimize their risk of catching a virus or infection. The more all of us can participate in mitigating the spread of germs, the healthier we will stay!