Letting kids get dirty has lifelong health benefits
To the parent of the child who continues eating a snack from the ground well after the five-second rule expires...
To the parent of the child who isn't content unless their hands are at least a little muddy...
To the parent of the child who is perfectly happy to share sips of water from a friend's cup...
There is good news: Exposure to dirt and germs helps children's immune systems. Jack Gilbert, Ph.D., a scientist who studies microbial ecosystems at the University of Chicago—and a father of two who continually faced messy situations—looked into the effects of those potential germs on little bodies for a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
What he and his co-authors discovered about the relationships between kids and germs was incredibly reassuring. “It turned out that most of the exposures were actually beneficial," he told NPR's Weekend Edition. "So that dirty pacifier that fell on the floor—if you just stick it in your mouth and lick it, and then pop it back in little Tommy's mouth, it's actually going to stimulate their immune system. Their immune system's going to become stronger because of it."
“It's fine to wash their hands if there's a cold or a flu virus around, but if they're interacting with a dog, and the dog licks their face, that's not a bad thing," Gilbert said. “In fact that could be extremely beneficial for the child's health."
So, what's the reason why small amounts of dirt and germs help kids?
As for the common dirty dilemmas parents face, here are the verdicts Gilbert gave to NPR...
Should children use hand-sanitizer?
Is it okay for a kid to eat something more than five seconds after it fell on the floor?
Should you wash or lick a pacifier after it fell?
Next time your toddler eats a handful of dirt, remember this: You're just doing your part in raising a healthy kid.
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