Kids Need to Eat Dirt and Get Dirty

Posted on November 10, 2017

New research on resilience is reminding parents that what kids really want is their ‘wildhoods’ back. They want to get dirty, have fewer rules and experience the exhilaration of sleeping under the stars. If you’re hesitant to heed that advice then consider the following research by Michael Ungar. After all, the best legacy a summer vacation could give a child is a lifetime of strength.

Studies have found that people exposed to lower levels of microbes during their infancy were much more sensitive to the “pro-inflammatory effects of stress” as adults. In practical terms that means the more germs we experience as children the better our immune systems will be later in life at preventing physiological reactions that make us susceptible to becoming stressed - dirt makes us psychologically strong.

If one thinks of this research in terms of preventative immunization, then giving kids a chance to get dirty (maybe even eat dirt) may be just what the doctor ordered for long term resistance to stress. Indeed, giving kids back their “wildhoods” is a great strategy for physical and psychological health.

“Now contrast that advice to the growing number of grocery stores that provide sanitary wipes next to the shopping carts” Ungar points out. “While I sympathize with parents who are concerned for their children’s wellbeing, I think the microbiologists would warn that all that wiping is making our children very, very sickly. In fact the best thing we can do is let our children lick those grocery cart handles..unless you know for certain there has been an outbreak of SARS or similar deadly disease in your neighbourhood.”

Stress resistance is both psychological (what we think and feel) and physical (a healthy gut, it seems, will influence our ability to withstand stress). The same could be said of the spiritual. There is something calming about being out in nature. An article in Scientific American summarized the evidence that when hospitals work with landscape architects to build gardens for patients, or position patients with a view out over trees, they are likely to heal faster and use less pain medication.

Ungar speculates that “children with healthy doses of nature are less likely to have behavioral problems. Maybe that’s because they are more tired at the end of the day, more stimulated, or maybe it’s because there are fewer rules being imposed by over-protective parents who can’t seem to leave their kids alone long enough for them to make mistakes and figure out their own solutions.”

Category(s):Child Development, Stress Management

Source material from Psychology Today

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