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The Joy of Dirt

June 25, 2019

The gut biome (or environment) contains
millions of microbes commonly referred to as germs, but germs get a bad rap. There
is an abundance of good bacteria that does everything from digest food and participates
in one’s mental faculties, to facilitating a host of other bodily functions too
complicated to describe here. This is why people eat yogurt, drink fermented
beverages, and take probiotics — in order to regain the good bacteria killed off
along with those nasty microbes that cause illness.

The problem is that our good
microbes are our only defense against viruses and nasty bacteria that our body
doesn’t need.  It is a balancing
act that can go haywire if we don’t expose our kids to dirt and dirty things! Good
microbes are found everywhere in nature – in the dirt we try to avoid making
contact with, in fermented food, on the surfaces of plants, animals, and
virtually everything else. The question is whether it is better to allow some
bad germs in order for some probiotics to get into the gut, as well. This raises
fear in mothers who try their best to keep their child germ-free. We fear
illness like the plague (no pun intended) but we also know that our immune
system needs to be exposed to viruses and germs in order to stay on alert. Of
course, no one likes to see one’s child suffer from a nasty cold, but the
question remains – are we over sanitizing our child’s world?

When we use hand sanitizer, clean
our fruits and vegetables, dishes, clothing, bathe and wash our hair, clean
surfaces and windows, and use antibiotics are we overdoing it? For one thing,
we pass this germ phobic sensibility on to our children who may become so obsessed
with cleanliness that they compulsively wash their hands, change their clothing,
or avoid what they may perceive as yucky substances, all of which may become a
real problem during the potty learning years.

Of course, when your LO decides
that some trash on the street looks interesting and tries to eat it we redirect
them but it may be important to remember that there a goodness in allowing children
to play in the dirt or with things found in the garden, the park, or the forest.
Perhaps eating an occasional bug, flower petal, or leaf could actually be good
for them, mentally, physically, and spiritually in the
long run.

Written by Dr. Deborah Groening-Rother, child therapist and founder of Well Baby Center, a parenting and counseling center located in Mar Vista.


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