Have you ever had something your mother said years ago suddenly pop into your mind? It doesn’t seem to be related to anything going on at the moment –but there it is! Recently that happened to me. I could hear my mother saying, “God certainly takes care of those children!” To put it into context – there were some young children in our neighborhood who were always disheveled and unkempt. Their little outfits were wrinkled and stained. Shoes were not a part of their everyday wardrobe and it appeared the last time a brush had been through their hair was about a week before. The smudges of dirt on their angelic little faces seemed to be permanent, and yet they smiled, played happily outside and NEVER seemed to get sick.
Yes, you could say God was taking care of them, but not in the way we would usually visualize that happening. We have been provided with an amazing abundance of all things we need to live healthy and prosper. One big component of that is dirt and the microbes in the dirt! (Probably not where you thought this was going).
Alas! All too few children today enjoy the creativity of making mud pies! Instead, they are sitting inside on the computer or playing games on some electronic device. But I digress, (that’s a discussion for another time). Lack of movement and exercise is not the point of this entry. Interacting with our world, getting dirty and natural immunity is what this segment is about. In the hygiene hypothesis, Dr. David Strachan says, “Asthma, eczema, hay fever and childhood diabetes are all being fueled by childhoods in which youngsters rarely roll in the mud, splash in puddles or play with animals.” When our kids play in the dirt, they are not only exposed to the wonders of nature, but also to healthy bacteria, parasites and viruses that will inevitably create a much stronger immune system. Also, an increasing number of experts are recognizing the role of nature in enhancing kids’ mental health. Dirt can even improve classroom performance. It’s easy to see the effect when you watch children play outside.
It’s not uncommon to hear a mother say, “Don’t do that, you’ll get dirty,” or “Don’t touch that, it’s covered with germs,” or “Eeeww, put that down, you don’t know where it has been!” and then they whip out the anti-bacterial gel or wipes. Often at home there is anti-bacterial soap at every sink and bleach in the cleaning products. In trying to avoid all the germs, we are wiping out any chance we have a building a natural immunity. As Americans, we are obsessed with being squeaky clean. I’m not saying don’t wash their hands and faces, but I am saying ditch the antibacterial soap and the bleach!
According to Dr. Graham A.W. Rook, a professor in the department of infection at the Centre for Clinical Microbiology at the University College London: “The bottom line is
organisms that were present in mud, untreated water, and feces were with us right from the start of humanity. What has happened over the course of evolution is, because these bugs had to be tolerated, they came to activate the tolerance of the immune system. They are the police force that keeps the immune system from becoming trigger-happy. Basically, the immune system is now attacking things it shouldn’t be attacking
My suggestion – chill out. Let your kids play in the dirt, make mud pies, splash in puddles, dig worms and kiss their pets. It’s good for their physical health and their mental health, and there’s always that possibility of building wonderful childhood memories. You might just want to get out there and play with them! But the big reward for you is sparkling eyes, dirty faces and the laughter of kids enjoying mother nature. When they come inside, give them a big hug and a good, healthy, whole food snack! You’ll be glad you did.