Any parent knows this simple truth. Small children put whatever is in their hands into their mouths. You may have seen your child eat crayons, chalk, or other such items. These items, while not too tasty, are non-toxic. But what do you do about mud, dirt, sand, or any other material that we label as dirt?
Children are natural-born explorers. They tend to look at every item in their surroundings as a potential food source. So should we have concerns about small children eating dirt?
Isn’t dirt an organic substance? How many organic items do you purchase at the supermarket? And why does my toddler prefer the taste of dirt above all else? Hopefully, reading the information here will answer these and more questions and better educate you, the parent, on the subject of toddlers eating dirt.
Why Do Children Crave Dirt?
Small children simply do whatever pleases them, and eating dirt is pleasing. It might not necessarily be the taste that drives their hand to their mouth, but the texture could be pleasing.
Of course, they know nothing about bacterial and viruses; they just satisfy their need at the moment. With your constant proper guidance, this resolves itself on its own.
Craving the taste of dirt is an essential part of their development. For the most part, it is harmless. Many women find themselves doing the same thing during pregnancy: craving the taste of dirt.
There Are Some Benefits From Eating Dirt
No, that is not a typo. Eating dirt does have its good side. Here are a few of those benefits:
1. The development of the immune system. You know how a vaccine works, right? Think of eating dirt in the same way. The immune system of toddlers is very active. They are trying to replace the immune system supplied by mom in the womb. At about the age of two, they begin developing their antibodies to fight bacteria that could pose a threat. And eating dirt causes the release of these antibodies, in-turn adding a protective layer to their immune system.
2. Dirt contains minerals. Dirt contains a vast amount of certain minerals that their small body needs for proper development.
3. Dirt heals stomach aches. There is a substance called Kaolin found in clay. Kaolin is an ingredient in some of the over-the-counter stomach medicines. But beware, too much Kaolin causes constipation.
4. Dirt contains pro-biotic properties. Just as with minerals, the stomach must have certain probiotic bacteria to function properly. Dirt contains these pro-biotics needed for a healthy stomach and intestinal tract. Probiotics also aid in the curing of Crohn’s disease.
5. Don’t stress out over dirt. Let your child be a child. A child that is allowed to play outside in the dirt tends to be in better overall health than those who are kept squeaky clean a never allowed on the floor much less out in the yard. This goes back to developing a healthy immune system.
Whoever thought that eating dirt is beneficial?
The Bad Side To Eating Dirt
As mentioned before, small children and some pregnant women crave the taste of dirt. Pica is a disorder related to the deficiency of calcium, zinc, or iron in the body. Nature’s way of dealing with it is to release a craving for dirt.
Pica is a word derived from the Latin name for a magpie. A bird known for its unusual eating habits. The disorder of eating dirt is referred to as Pica. A small child with Pica would crave non-food items, and most would grow out of this with age.
Children who don’t outgrow the condition are usually diagnosed with some type of autism or retardation. Another possibility is an injury to their brain or brain stem. There is a 10 to 30 percent chance that a child may develop this eating disorder.
Ingesting inedible matter such as dirt could lead to gastrointestinal problems. Eating dirt increases the risk of causing an intestinal blockage. Dirt can be contaminated with pesticides, insecticides, and bacteria from animal feces. Any dirt contaminated in this way may lead to serious abdominal complications. These complications could be the root cause of problems later in life.
Toxocariasis is a disease that could lead to loss of sight, asthma, or epilepsy. This disease is by the Toxocara worm found around animal feces and sewage plants. These worms then find their way into the soil.
If your location happens to be near any factories, the soil may already be contaminated. The surrounding soil could contain heavy metals such as lead or arsenic. Lead, if ingested in large quantities, can cause damage to the nervous system of children.
Arsenic is another toxic substance that may cause cancer. Eating dirt can also cause iron deficiency as well as complications from the lead and arsenic mentioned.
A Few Ways to Limit The Amount of Dirt Your Toddler Can Get to
So let them be kids and play in the dirt. And don’t panic if they happen to eat a bit of dirt. But at the same time, don’t make dirt its food group. And take into consideration where your home is located. And consider the types of things around your home.
Here a few things that you can control when it comes to dirt.
1. Instead of sweeping the floors, do a thorough wet mopping instead. And also use a mopping agent that has a disinfectant in it.
2. Do you have a lot of potted plants? If so, keep them out of reach of your intrepid little explorer.
3. Teach your children to wash. Particularly wash their hands and mouth after playing in the dirt.
4. Stay ahead of the dust. Keeping things well dusted keeps the dust out of their mouth.
5. Keep all pet food away from a child’s reach. Pet food has been known to cause stomach infections.
Don’t panic over the dirt issue. It is a developmental stage. It also reminds us that kids need attention and love!