Teaching Children the Proper Way to Sneeze

Kids often get sick often around the time when they start going to day care, preschool or school. One reason that kids seem to get sick more when they begin interacting with other children is that many kids don't cover their mouths or noses when they cough or sneeze. Proper sneezing etiquette isn't something kids know automatically. It's something that has to be taught, then reinforced until it is a learned behavior.

Talking about Germs

Discuss germs and how they spread with your child. Take your child's age and developmental level into account when explaining germs. If talking to a younger child, you can talk about germs without using words such as "organisms" or "bacteria," though it's never too early to start expanding a child's vocabulary by introducing them to new terms. For some kids, telling them that germs are tiny living things that can get into our bodies and make us sick is enough 2.

Cover Your Nose and Mouth

Explain why it's important to cover her nose and mouth when she sneezes. Tell her that when you sneeze, germs go from your mouth and nose into the air or whatever you are sneezing on. One way to demonstrate the spread of germs to your child is cover his hands with flour, then have him pretend to sneeze or cough on his hands and see how far the flour goes. You can also show how germs pass among people by having your child shake your hand and see how much flour moves from his hand to yours. Express to your child the importance of not sharing germs with others by putting them in the air or on objects such as hands or door knobs.

Using a Tissue

Introduce the idea of sneezing into a tissue, throwing the tissue away, and washing her hands after the tissue is in the garbage. Explain to her that if she needs to sneeze, she should cover her nose and mouth with a tissue so the germs will go onto the tissue instead of something else. Tell your child that he should throw tissues away and not save them for later because they will have more germs on them after being in his pocket for a while.

Using Your Elbow or Sleeve

Teach your child to sneeze into his elbow when a tissue isn't available. By teaching your child to sneeze into his elbow, you are providing him an alternative to sneezing into his hands. Kids can also sneeze into their upper sleeve closer to the shoulder when they do not have access to tissues.


Ensure that your child knows the proper way to wash hands. Emphasize the fact that she doesn't wash her hands after sneezing and throwing away the tissue, some germs will still be on her hands from the tissue. Help your child practice washing her hands with soap and warm water for 15 to 20 seconds. Reinforce to your child that he should always wash his hands after sneezing, even if he didn't touch a tissue or sneeze into his hands.

Remind, Remind, Remind

Remind your child about the proper way to sneeze often, and provide positive reinforcements when you see him sneezing into a tissue or his elbow then washing his hands. Children learn through repetition. Visual reminders are also helpful when teaching kids good habits. Consider adding visual cues to the house, such as simple hand-washing signs near the sinks or a picture of a faucet on the tissue box.

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