In the interests of health and hygiene, it’s important for parents to advise children not to share toys, water bottles, towels and other personal items - Aruna Raghuram
While sharing and caring is a virtue all parents must teach their children, it’s also important to teach them not to share some things. In the interests of health and hygiene, make sure your child is neither a borrower nor lender of certain personal things. Sharing them could spread infections and disease. Your child could catch a cold, skin infection or a stomach bug if she shares germs-carrier items.
According to Ahmedabad-based paediatrician Dr. Uma Asopa “infections can be spread orally, by sneezing or coughing, dermally, or through the faeco-oral route”. “Children are vulnerable to infections and sharing of personal items increases their chances of being laid low by infectious germs. Toys and spoons can spread infections orally, while the flu, a cold or respiratory infection can be spread by using the handkerchief of an infected person. Dermal transmissions occur when children share a towel or soap. Also, there are scores of bacteria and fungi resident on the skin, therefore, sharing a bar of soap can spread fungal infections like ringworm and staph,” says Asopa.
Dr. B.K. Sudhindra, former vice-president of the Bengaluru chapter of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, believes parents can play a significant role by insisting that personal items such as toothbrushes and towels should be separate for each family member. “Parents need to explain germs and microbes in simple terms so that children learn not to share some personal items and explain the dangers of sharing them to their friends,” he says.
What items do children of all ages commonly share? Topping the list are toys, books, pencils, erasers, water bottles, spoons, handkerchiefs, towels and combs. Listed here are the pros and cons of sharing these objects.
Toys. While children do need to learn to share toys and play together, the age at which they should do so is debatable. Comments Dr. Asopa: “I would advise against sharing of toys of infants and toddlers as they tend to put these objects in their mouth. As for older children, it’s okay to share toys so long as they maintain adequate personal hygiene such as hand-washing after play.”
Water bottles. Sharing water bottles, straws and spoons could lead to saliva being carried from one mouth to others. This could spread colds, strep throat and even herpes and meningitis. Dr. Sudhindra advises young children to also take elementary precautions while sharing food and water with in-school peers. “Children must wash spoons before reusing them and should not put their lips to a friend’s water bottle while drinking from it. After age eight, children must become vigilant and careful about personal hygiene,” he says.
Handkerchiefs. Children should never share handkerchiefs and towels as they are ideal breeding grounds of bacteria. Towels, especially, should not be shared as they tend to be damp, warm and absorbent and are often hung in dark bathrooms.
Soap bar. You may believe soap is self-cleaning, but that’s not true. Bacteria from the skin and body fluids reside in soap. Instruct children not to use soap bars of public places. If your child is going for a sleepover to a friend’s place, caution them against using the friend’s bath sponge or loofah. These items are never fully dry and germs multiply within their fibres.
Toothbrush. According to a 2016 study conducted by the University of Manchester, UK, an average used toothbrush hosts more than 10 million bacteria, including e.coli and staph. Children who use each other’s toothbrush are at a higher risk of infections leading to tooth decay. In addition, germs found on the bristles can easily transmit colds and strep throat bacteria.
Earrings. It might seem harmless to wear a friend’s earrings, but they can spread blood-borne pathogens. If you have borrowed a friend’s earrings, clean with disinfectant before use.
Earphones. Earwax is replete with bacteria so there are high chances of infection if you borrow earphones, particularly if the user/wearer also has an open cut or wound, warns Dr. Sudhindra. Sharing of ear buds should be absolutely verboten.
Combs. It is difficult to refuse to lend a comb or brush to a friend. But bear in mind that they spread head lice, scalp infections and scabies.
Flip-flops. Children rarely share shoes, but they may be tempted to borrow a friend’s rubber chappals when in a hurry. It’s possible to contract fungal infections like athlete’s foot and warts by sharing them. Sharing unwashed socks is also dangerous.
Lip balm. Bacteria can slip into the bloodstream through lip and mouth membranes, and oral herpes can be contracted by sharing lip balm. Though sharing face cream is relatively safe, sharing eye makeup can lead to eye infections such as conjunctivitis.