Explaining Good Germs to Kids

Kids don’t always understand that only some germs can cause infections and make them sick 2. In fact, some germs actually help keep their bodies healthy. So instead of only concentrating on ways to kill off bad germs, teach kids the importance of encouraging the growth of good germs to help keep them from getting sick.

About Bacteria

When you talk to your child about good germs, explain that bacteria are a kind of germ that grow inside the body. Tell him that although bad bacteria can cause ear infections, sore throats and even cavities, good bacteria that live in the digestive tract help the body to digest food so cells get the nutrients they need to stay healthy. But when there aren’t enough good bacteria to do the job, food particles get into the bloodstream and act as allergens. Unfortunately, allergens are what can cause:

  • a runny nose
  • coughing
  • skin rashes
  • aches
  • pains or other unpleasant symptoms

What Good Germs Do

When your child asks what good germs do, explain that the good germs in his body fight off the bad germs so that he will have fewer stomachaches, colds, ear infections and flu. Without good bacteria to protect him, your child could get salmonella, an E. coli infection or diarrhea. Since the absence of enough good bacteria can also lead to food allergies and urinary tract infections, let your child know that some germs are actually his friends. Nurse Gloria Verret, in a blog post for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, points out that while parents have to use common sense when it comes to preventing the spread of harmful germs, kids still need some exposure to germs to build immunity.

Role of Nutrition

You can continue your explanation of good germs by explaining that foods like pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt, buttermilk and dark chocolate contain good bacteria that boost the immune system and make it harder for bad germs to attack. Point out how eating a poor diet can lead to less good bacteria in the body whereas eating foods like bananas, asparagus, garlic, onions and whole grains helps increase the amounts. If your child’s immune system is low or she has been taking an antibiotic medication, probiotic supplements available at health food stores and pharmacies contain live bacteria that are good for the body, especially when the good bacteria are in short supply.

How Antibiotics Can Hurt

Overuse of antibiotics can kill off good bacteria, making it harder to treat some infections, though your youngster may be too young to understand how medicine can make her sick. Naturopathic physician Dr. Ardyce Yik, notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics’ most recent guidelines on how to treat ear infections recommends a wait-and-see approach 3. Unless and pain and swelling persist, fever is higher than 102.2 degrees or your child’s condition fails to improve within two days, antibiotics might not be necessary as many infections will go away on their own 3.