Dirt, Nuts, Bad Hygiene and Habits Such As Nail Biting and Thumb Sucking May Have A Benefit After All

peanutallergyWhenever a parent of a grandchild is worried about something the grandchild is or is not doing, such as sleeping through the night, or toilet training, this Grandma’s response is always, “well, he or she will be sleeping through the night when they walk down the aisle or he or she will be toilet trained when they walk down the aisle. I guess what long years have taught me is not to sweat the small stuff. My mother, GG (great grandmother) used to say, little children, little problems, big children, big problems.

I sincerely believe that nearly everything will work itself out in the end, and ultimately what seemed like a big problem in a little child is not really such a big problem. And, whenever I have said that statement about whatever not happening when the child ultimately walks down the aisle, the parent of the grandchildren laughs and I know, sighs a sigh of relief. Isn’t that a grandma’s job? To demystify and to give relief and respite in any way we can. Parenting is a hard job and we should try to make it easier if we can.

So, now to get to the newest of two of those small things, thumb sucking and nail biting, which parents of children fret about as large things, that are now the subject of a study from New Zealand, reported in the Journal of Pediatrics. In the New York Times, July 11, 2016, Perri Klass,MD, writes, “Thumb Suckers and Nail Biters May Develop Fewer allergies.”

The children were studied until age 38, and the study found some exposure to germs ” may help program a child’s immune system to fight disease, rather than develop allergies.” It seems that germ exposure caused by these habits in children ages 5-11 may be a good thing, just like we are learning that early exposure to nuts may be a good thing when dealing with nut allergies.

This Grandma does not remember nut allergies so much of a problem  when the parents of the grandchildren were young and apparently they were not , as studies show that between 1997 and 2008, the incidence of peanut and tree nut allergies nearly tripled.  Now we know according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine “that high-risk babies who were fed a soupy, peanut-butter mush (starting between 4 and 11 months of age) were about 80 percent less likely to develop a peanut allergy by age 5, compared with kids who were not exposed.”  See this link.

Nutella, here we come! So, exposure to dirt and to nuts, and now to thumb sucking and nail biting may be not so bad after all.  Of course, there are other concerns with thumb sucking and nail biting such as social stigma, speech affected, or teeth affected, and then, there are ways to help the child break the habit. As stated in the article, there are some ways to deal with this then:

” And in those situations, especially when a child is over 4, we work with parents and children. . . . Don’t make negative comments; look for the situations that bring on the behavior and find alternate strategies; praise and reward the child for not doing it; put a glove or a bandage on the hand to remind the child.”

The study brought up the same theory as exposure to nuts:

“The question of such a connection arose because of the so-called hygiene hypothesis, an idea originally formulated in 1989, that there may be a link between atopic disease – the revved-up action of the immune system responsible for eczema, asthma and allergy – and a lack of exposure to various microbes early in life ”

Now to the “big children, big problems” issue of nail biting and thumb sucking:

“Thumb sucking, especially in an older child, can still be a problem if it interferes with the teeth, or causes infections on the fingers, or gets a child teased. Lynn Davidson, a developmental pediatrician who is an attending physician at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, and the author of a review article on thumb sucking, said she tends to be “very low-key” about thumb sucking, since children often stop on their own as they grow.”

There are some more ideas of how to deal with this:

“With older children, Dr. Davidson suggests that parents, if they are worried, should try to analyze when and why the child resorts to thumb sucking or nail biting, and then try behavioral techniques, like offering a child a foam ball to hold and squeeze at those moments. “In an older child you can use their input, ask, what would you do with your hands instead of putting them in your mouth,” she said.”

The best part of these new studies is that it shows that children’s bad hygiene and bad habits that make the parents of our grandchildren crazy should not necessarily make us crazy.  And, it is up to us grandmas to point out the studies and pass this information along.  Empower the parents with some of the ideas given by experts.  After all, it will also make our grandchildren’s lives better too.

Maybe next time a young grandchild is covered in mud, we grandmas and the parents of the grandchild can laugh together.  Allergy prevention at work!





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