Parenting News

Exposing children to germs… how much is too much?

Information around germs and children and which activities are good for them.

Although we are told exposing our children to germs is good for them, as it boosts their immune system, we are also told that to keep them safe, we need to keep them away from germs.

These two contrasting statements can drive any parent insane. It’s hard enough trying to do the right thing, but when the experts can’t agree, doubt will always cloud any decision.

We can’t raise our children in a bubble and activities such as messy play, gardening and digging should be encouraged,” explained Mario Correia, brand manager for Milton.

“But that doesn’t mean your children can be left to their own devises when it comes to cleanliness. Common sense needs to prevail when teaching our children about hygiene.”

Professor Sally Bloomfield, a member of the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene (IFH) and author of the Royal Society for Public Health Policy Report focussing on public understanding and attitudes to hygiene, stated that when it comes to germs she understands why parents can be confused.

Bloomfield stated that we need to find ways to protect our children against infectious diseases while still exposing them to beneficial microbes. These microbes come from interaction with our human, animal and natural environment, and allow us to build a diverse microbiome in our gut, respiratory tract, skin and other areas. Failure to maintain this can lead to allergies, asthma, eczema, hay fever and food allergies, as well as auto immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.

According to the report the rise of these types of conditions can be due to lifestyle changes such as not spending enough time outside, and having less interaction with friends, family and pets.

The IFH over the years has developed a targeted hygiene approach, and suggested that when it comes to cleanliness the following activities should take priority over others:

  • Handling of food
  • Eating with fingers
  • Using the toilet
  • Coughing, sneezing and nose blowing
  • Touching surfaces frequently touched by other people, such as door handles
  • Handling dirty clothing and household linens
  • Caring for domestic animals
  • Handling and disposing of refuse
  • Caring for an infected member of the family
Messy play is important for development as well as creating a healthy gut in children. Photo submitted.

During these activities cleanliness needs to focus on the surfaces that have come into contact, including hands, food preparing surfaces and laundry.

So, what activities are safe for children to take part in that will ensure that they are exposed to germs, but not too much? Children should be taught that washing their hands after they are done the activity is part of the game.

Correia suggested the following activities:

  • Messy play is important for development as well as creating a healthy gut in children. Although it is not fun to clean up, it is very beneficial to a child’s development. Activities such as playing in a sand pit (and not eating the sand) and painting outside using different objects, can contribute to healthy development.
  • Having their own vegetable garden allows children to expose themselves to natural germs, while learning about food and where it comes from. Let them dig, plant, water and watch their plants grow.
  • Walking around a park or hiking on a trail will expose them to natural elements and get them fit at the same time. Let them pick up rocks and touch the flowers.
  • Help look after the family pet. This will teach them responsibility and expose them to healthy microbes. Depending on the age of your child this can include walking the pets, feeding them, playing with them and grooming them.

Being a parent is not an easy job, and comes with constant doubts,” commented Correia.

“However, children need to be exposed to mess and dirt, within reason and common sense, in order to grow and develop. Teaching your child about certain hygiene practices from early on, such as washing their hands regularly, helps to teach them about keeping clean while still having fun.”

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