Amazingly resilient, kids.
They get chickenpox, measles, mumps – and never get them again.
Or at least only rarely. Catch something once, they develop an immunity – which seems to protect them for the rest of their lives.
Not just illnesses either.
They might look weak and fragile, but kids have built-in resistance to all kinds of things, particularly allergies.
Like it or not, it’s good for your kids to eat dirt.
Not that any of us believe it of course.
We’re so paranoid about germs and dirt and keeping clean, we wrap our kids up in cotton-wool and shut them away from anything bad.
Which could be the worst thing of all.
Overdo the sanitising gels, wipes, soaps, sprays, pasteurised milk, irradiated food and antibiotic everything, and we accelerate auto-immune disease.
Because we prevent the body from learning what is good and what is bad and developing defences for it.
Makes sense if you think about it.
Learning about germs
A baby explores everything with her mouth.
The most yucky stuff goes in there and we’re horrified at the possibilities.
But how often does something bad result – and how else can her immune system become attuned to the challenges around her if it doesn’t know what it’s up against?
So eating dirt is actually good, not bad.
Up to a point.
There is still a need for preventative hygiene. And the older kids get, the less likely they can get away with not washing hands, cleaning their teeth or all the other good habits that exist to keep them healthy.
Sure, kids who grow up with allergens and household bacteria wind up stronger than kids who don’t. But not when exposure is constant and excessive – like living in damp conditions surrounded by mildew and mould.
TB and asthma are not nice for anyone. And childhood afflictions tend to be life-long, or with recurring symptoms later in life.
Good dirt, bad dirt
Which means as a parent, you need to balance good dirt and bad dirt.
You can’t watch them every second of the time, but you can make certain whatever they get their hands on is not full of dog poo or overflow from the drains.
And you can insist on common sense as they get older, shifting them from exploratory habits to safer ones as their baby systems develop, teaching basic hygiene as you go.
Besides, when it comes to nosh, kids quickly get the picture anyway.
Here comes the aeroplane, full of yummy prune and butternut. Open the tunnel, all that good stuff going down inside, to make you strong and healthy.
More fun than clods of earth or mud pies.
Been there, done that, got the immunity.