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Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Toothbrush tumblerimage by Christian Heindel (lic)The term "hygiene" refers to behaviors that promote health. The term is used as part of the phrase, "personal hygiene" to refer to people's personal health-promoting habits, such as hand washing, tooth brushing, and covering one's nose when sneezing.

In all likelihood, parents of middle childhood aged children will have been teaching children personal hygiene habits since they were little. However, as these habits are vitally important to children's ongoing health and well being, it is important that parents keep after children so as to ensure: 1) that they maintain those hygiene habits they've already learned, and 2) also develop new hygiene habits appropriate to their developing bodies.

Beyond their health-promotion functions, good personal hygiene habits help children present an attractive appearance to the world, which in turn influences how they are perceived and treated by others. Thus, it is fair to think of hygiene as covering not only health promotion behaviors, but also as serving important social functions. Parents who help children learn how to present an attractive appearance to their peers, for example, by washing frequently, wearing clean clothing and using deodorant, help maximize their chances of being well received by those peers which in turn will affect children's developing self-esteem.

Accordingly, we divide the following discussion of hygiene habits into two parts. We start with a discussion of hygiene habits which specifically promote health and reduce the risk of disease, and then go on to describe additional hygiene behaviors which improve children's appearance and social acceptability, and thus help to enhance their self-esteem.