There are times when it seems like my wife and I nag our kids about everything, whether it's brushing their teeth, making their beds, having good manners, or washing their hands before meals. They are young enough to where their level of resistance is still manageable, but that doesn't stop them from letting us know they aren't happy about it.

On the one hand, I can understand where they are coming from, because every child has more important things to do than chores, including talking to their friends, going on the computer, and playing outside. Good habits, however, have many tangible benefits throughout their lives, and nowhere is this more true than with washing their hands. December is Hand Washing Awareness Month and a good time to remind our family that clean hands help to promote good health.

Hand washing is in fact one of the most effective public health measures in preventing sickness and a first line of defense against disease. In fact, many cases of food poisoning from prepared foods occur because of dirty hands. Whether it is at home, at work or school, or any public space, washing hands is just a good habit to embrace. The reasons for this are simple: germs are everywhere, and many of them can survive for long periods of time on any number of surfaces.

While many of these germs don't cause problems, certain ones do, and they can be serious. When these germs get into our body, they can cause illnesses that are, in many instance, avoidable by simply washing our hands. With this in mind, why not encourage good hygiene habits in your home and help reduce the risk this happening?

Here are 4 ways to get it done.

1. Start Early

All good habits take time to develop, and parents stand a greater chance of making them stick when kids start young. Until they are able to wash their own hands, parents can clean their kids' hands with soap and water or a baby wipe. When they can reach the sink, teach them the proper technique, then encourage them to do it regularly on their own.

2. Teach Them When to Wash Their Hands

Germs can make us sick when they get inside of our bodies, and the most common route is through the mouth. It therefore makes sense to wash off these germs before this can happen. Teach your kids to wash their hands:

  • Before meals
  • After visiting the bathroom
  • After handling pets or their waste
  • After returning home from spending long periods in public places (you can even carry hand sanitizer to clean hands while out)

3. Teach Them How to Wash Their Hands

Proper technique is an important part of good hygiene, so teach kids the right way to get it done.

  • Wet hands under running water then turn off the tap.
  • Apply soap and rub hands together.
  • Make sure to wash the back of the hands and between fingers.
  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds (you can sing "Happy Birthday" slowly).
  • Rinse off soap under clean running water.
  • Dry with a clean towel.

If you do not have access to a sink, commercial hand sanitizers are an option, though many of them contain stringent chemicals that some people may be sensitive to or uncomfortable using. Check the label to see what is inside.

While good hygiene is an important part of good health, having clean hands need not be a neurotic obsession. Simply practice good common sense tactics and help your family stay healthy and happy throughout the year.

For more information, visit the website for Kids Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC).