13 answers

Excessive Hand Washing

Recently, my 6 year old has started washing her hands so often that her hands are chapped and red. In addition to washing at normal times (after the bathroom and before eating, etc), she is washing her hands whenever she feels like she has touched something dirty, which may be her shoe, the counter, or whatever. At the same time, though, she will still wipe her messy face and nose on her shirt sleeve, stick her fingers in her mouth and all of the other normal, yucky 6 year old stuff, so I don't really think that she has OCD.

I am what I like to call "germ aware," and have told her that we wash to get rid of germs to help avoid getting sick. But, she is now overly worried about having germs on her hands. Lately, I am stopping her from washing her hands, until she tells me why she is doing it. If it's not a good reason, then I don't let her, but she gets upset because her "hands feel dirty."

Has anyone else's little one gone through a stage like this?

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Instead of her scrubbing her hands raw, have you tried antibacterial gel or wipes? They have the gel in pump bottles like lotion or soap. Maybe just a squirt of that a couple times a day will make her feel "clean"?

More Answers

Tell her to use just water unless it is dirt she can see. And explain to her (with the visual of her own hands) that the soap is doing damage to her skin by washing so much and that germs will get in more easily when skin is broken. I would NOT recommend traditional lotion to relieve the chapping either. Read the label - anything with parabens, ureas, petroleum or mineral oil, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, or synthetic colors or fragrances WILL DO MORE DAMAGE. Use pure coconut or olive oil to relieve the dryness and help speed healing.

I dont have any advice on the hand washing, but make sure if you offer her lotion that it does NOT contain mineral oil or petroleum as 98% of the lotions over the counter do. Mineral oil/petroleum is a gasoline byproduct & is very smothering on the skin so it cannot breathe. Its like wrapping your body in plastic wrap & is very suffocating.
That will make the chaffing worse, so just wanted to pass it along. If you have any questions or need advice on good brands, feel free to e-mail me as this is part of what I do for a living. Min oil/petroleum are even banned for use in hospitals..

I do this too. I always wash my hands after touching things. Yes, it makes your hands red and sore and even crack and bleed. To Help with this, first make sure that you have soap that is not antibacterial for her to wash her hands with, Just use softsoap or something like that. (Antibacterial soaps are very drying on the skin and also get rid of the good bacteria along with the bad bacteria)Also, put a bottle of "cornhuskers lotion" (you can get this at walmart for not much money) on the counter beside the sink. Tell her to use a LITTLE bit of this lotion after she washes her hands. That lotion does wonders for chapped hands. (A little goes a very long way) Also, avoid the instant hand sanitizers, as they dry out your skin even more and make the chapping and bleeding worse. Telling her she can't wash her hands will only make it worse and make her "need" to wash them all the more.

This could be a phase. Sometimes kids take what we say so literally and overdo it.
My child got really concerned about germs for awhile after health class in 6th or 7th grade. Now I don't think she cares enough and shares food with friends. I wouldn't make a big deal about it. I just say let's not wash our hands so much because you are drying out your skin and it will start hurting.

Hope this helps,

Instead of her scrubbing her hands raw, have you tried antibacterial gel or wipes? They have the gel in pump bottles like lotion or soap. Maybe just a squirt of that a couple times a day will make her feel "clean"?

Hi A.,

My husband has OCD and so does our oldest son. He goes through similiar rituals, believing his hands are dirty - but goes on to do things that cause them to be, etc. A complusive behavior to do something doesn't always have to have a real reason per se....it's just something that they can't control the feeling of. Being ritualistic, or believing that not doing the act may cause bad luck, anxiety, etc are very REAL to them. Some also have sensitizing issues, so they may feel like the slightest bit of anything sticky, dirty, or discolored on their hands is a huge deal.

One thing that helped our son was offering hand-sanitizer. Whenever he felt the urge to wash his hands, he could do so on his own. You can even mix some lotion with it to make it more hydrating - or begin to cut the ratio down, so there's less santizer and more lotion - to soothe the chapping.

You may be interested in learning about EFT for treating these kinds of behaviors: http://www.emofree.com/


My daughter went through the same phase. I did buy a Germ-X sanitizer squirt just for her to use whenever she felt dirty. I kept it on the kitchen counter to make sure she wasn't playing with it or using it too much. I'd also get her her own lotion to smell good and then maybe she won't want to wash it off too often, not to waste it. Good luck - it's just a phase. :)

My 22 yo daughter has OCD and this is how it first presented when she was the same age as your daughter. Not to alarm you or anything, just to watch. She also had little things that didn't seem to make sense with OCD...such as, her room had to be spotless, but her bed was never made. She still struggles with chapped hands to this day. She has trouble with transitions...moving from one task to the next. At school, she never liked turning in unfinished work, or work she liked and wanted to keep. I would buy a liquid soap that has moisturizers in it...Softsoap has a milk and honey one that has been better for my daughter lately. My daughter was sneaky about her washing and wouldnt' let me know she was doing it because she knew I would make her stop. So, I would try not to go overboard about it with her. Switch soaps, and get some lotion she likes and teach her to use it. Then, you might try making a game of counting to 10 or singing the ABC's and when the song is over, she's done washing. My daughter's chafing kept moving up her arm as she decided she needed to wash higher and higher up to her elbows. Your sweetie may grow out of this, but I would just watch and be attentive to other signs and then get her help asap. You don't automatically have to choose medication if she does get diagnosed. We had great success with St. John's Wort for a while which is an herbal supplement. There's lots of nuances and ways that OCD can show up and it's often different for each child. If you want to talk more, please feel free to email me. Like I said, my daughter is 22 and so we have been around with it for a long time. Most of all, just love her and let her know that she is okay and perfect just the way she is.

Good luck!

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