The latest science on dirt is in, and it's the best news we've heard yet. Not only is dirt not hurting our kids, it's actually good for them.
Parent and scientist Jack Gilbert, from the University of Chicago, looked into the effects of dirt on children and found that exposure to germs stimulates children's immune systems, causing them to become stronger and more robust.
Jack told NPR that modern living has been detrimental to children's immune systems.
"In the past, we would have eaten a lot more fermented foods, which contain bacteria. We would have allowed our children to be exposed to animals and plants and soil on a more regular basis. Now we live indoors. We sterilise our surfaces. Their immune systems become hyper-sensitised.
"You have these little soldier cells in your body called neutrophils, and when they spend too long going around looking for something to do, they become grumpy and pro-inflammatory. And so when they finally see something that's foreign, like a piece of pollen, they become explosively inflammatory. They go crazy. That's what triggers asthma and eczema and, often times, food allergies."
Jack shared his findings on children's immune systems in a book he co-authored, Dirt is Good: The Advantages of Germs for Your Child's Developing Immune System.
"It turned out that most of the exposures were actually beneficial," Jack said. "So that dirty pacifier that fell on the floor – if you just stick it in your mouth and lick it, and then pop it back in little Tommy's mouth, it's actually going to stimulate their immune system. Their immune system's going to become stronger because of it."
The book shares Jack's tips for parents on minimising allergies and growing healthy kids, including:
Ditch the hand sanitiser
Hand sanitiser usually does more harm than good. Hot or warm soapy water is more than enough to wash kids' hands, and isn't as damaging to their health.
Embrace the 5 second rule
Okay, so scientifically speaking, the 5 second rule isn't actually a thing. It only takes milliseconds for microbes to attach themselves to that piece of Vegemite toast dropped on the kitchen floor. But the good news is, unless it's dropped in an area full of dangerous pathogens (which is almost impossible in modern homes), those microbes are harmless. You could serve dinner on the kitchen floor and everyone would be fine.
It's okay to lick your baby's dummy clean
We've all done it, haven't we? When a dummy gets dropped for the thousandth time in a day, and there's nowhere to wash it, Mum's mouth is the go-to. Now you can do it proudly and not care if anyone sees. A study of over 300,000 children found that the children of parents who licked their dummies developed less allergies, less asthma, and less eczema.
To support your child's gut health, give them a variety of coloured and leafy vegetables every day. A diet rich in fibre and with minimal sugar is optimal.
Let your kids experience the world
As long as your children are properly vaccinated, it's good for them to be exposed to a variety of germs. They will grow up stronger, healthier and more robust.