We’ve all been there before…moms, dads, siblings, grandparents...that moment when you gaze your eyes upon the tiny human you love and realize that they have managed to get a hold of something that captured their attention. Whether it is a set of keys, your phone, a water bottle, unquestionably anything that those tiny hands can grab a hold of, you know you have about 5 seconds before that object goes straight into their mouth. Now, our instantaneous reaction is to dash over there and grab the object as fast as we can, and if the object can produce physical harm to the child then yes, of course grab it! But, if the object is harmless, before you snatch it back, consider the following: is this actually causing the child to be healthier in the long run? Most of the time...it actually is!
In all certainty, that child is introducing and enriching their immune system with a wealth of different types of bacteria. In early life, letting our kids play in the dirt, touch different things, eat food off of the table, etc. helps promote a healthy immune system. Being exposed to germs is an essential step in developing a strong and healthy immune system. In addition, it also decreases the chance of developing things such as allergies and asthma because the body is given a chance early on to recognize these germs and bacteria as harmless.
This notion of being exposed to germs is called “Hygiene Hypothesis” which essentially means that our bodies need practice fighting germs. Reality check! Our bodies do not need practice, they need exposure. The human body is so intricately designed that after the initial exposure to germs, the body recognizes them and can immediately detect them when exposed again, even if it is years after the initial exposure. Other than leaping into a puddle of mud, there are different ways to expose your child to various types of bacteria: pets, day care, playgrounds, and interaction with other kids. There is a plethora of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in our everyday life that do not hurt us or affect us in any negative way. In fact, only a small handful of them are likely to make you sick.
Now, there is a difference between being smart when it comes to germ exposure and being reckless. Be smart when handling raw meat, disposing of pet feces, coming in contact with chemicals like cleaning supplies and such. As you can imagine, these are not ideal ways to construct a healthy immune system. Essentially the bottom line is, don’t fear germs. They are everywhere and there is no escaping them. Let your kid be a kid. Let them explore the playground while at the park, even if that means they play in the dirt the whole time. Let them mingle with their peers and try not to wipe their hands and face every five minutes. You can find germs everywhere, in the air, on plants, on food, animals, soil, and water…just about every surface you can imagine, including your body. But most germs are not bad! The exposure is inevitable, why not embrace it?