Like most parents, you’ve probably worried about how to protect your child from germs. You see antibacterial soaps and immune-boosting vitamins on the shelves at the supermarket, and wonder how far you should go to make sure your child stays healthy.
Two top microbiologists–who are also fathers of young children–have written a book explaining why the best way to boost your child’s immune system is to let him (or her) play in the dirt.
In their book, Dirt Is Good: The Advantage of Germs For Your Child’s Developing Immune System (published in June 2017 by St. Martin’s Press), Jack GIlbert and Rob Knight offer simple advice that is giving parents a reason to relax. And when it comes to your child’s health, being relaxed about germs is far more beneficial than being vigilant.
How much dirt is safe to eat? Sucking on dirty fingers or getting a splash of mud in the mouth is fine, they say. Even eating an occasional dirt clod is nothing to worry about. Not every child finds dirt appealing, but even if they don’t eat it intentionally, it’s good to ingest a little bit. The authors suggest that, after a session of dirty fun, you bring your child inside, wash their hands with warm water and regular soap, (not antibacterial soap or wipes) and don’t worry about scrubbing their fingernails. The small amount of dirt that will find its way into your child’s mouth on their next cracker will actually help stimulate their immune system, ensuring a healthy gut filled with a good balance of microorganisms.
What about household dirt? Many parents wonder about that pacifier that gets dropped onto the floor. Lick that binky, and then put it back in your baby’s mouth, the authors say. One study of nearly 200,000 preschoolers showed that parents who did this had children who developed fewer allergies, less asthma, and fewer cases of eczema. Overall, their health was stronger and more robust.
There are plenty of things to worry about as a parent, but it’s good to know that dirt isn’t one of them. Let your child get dirty, and smile knowing those muddy little fingers are building a better immune system.
By Maya Frost, Head Teacher at Hábitat Learning Community