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Is dirt good for children?

Allowing your child to be a mucky pup can improve health and development

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There’s a temptation around young children, for parents to go into super-clean mode, scrupulously scrubbing surfaces and religiously sticking to a daily bathtime routine. Well, according to the latest research, it’s time to ease off
a little. Yes folks, scrap that sanitising spray and turn off those taps because not only will it save you time and reduce water consumption, it will also benefit your child. You’ve probably already heard of the hygiene hypothesis, a theory first proposed back in 1989, which suggests that a lack of early exposure to the micro-organisms and parasites that populate our bodies and immediate environment can increase a child’s susceptibility to allergies. Now scientists have identified a cleaning agent found in soap, called triclosan, that appears to be the major culprit. The study, carried out by the University of Michigan, found that children who were exposed to high levels of triclosan were more likely to suffer allergies and hay fever. “It’s possible that a child can be too clean for their own good,” says the study’s co-author, Dr Alison Aiello. It also backs up the advice recently given by The American Academy of Paediatrics that children should be bathed only once or twice a week. However, hand-washing and food and toilet hygiene are still vitally important in disease prevention.

If you need further convincing that a bit of grime is actually beneficial for your child, look no further than child-development experts, who are increasingly championing the power of mucky play as an excellent way to help children learn to express their creativity. “Many activities that are necessary for our growth and development, for our wellbeing and happiness involve getting dirty,” say Dr John Richer, Head of Paediatric Psychology at the John Radcliffe Hospital and a specialist on the subject. “Getting dirty is all part of a child’s successful and happy development.”


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This article previously appeared in Junior magazine as a print article

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