Sniffles and Snuffles!

Once when my elder son, Big A, was 4 years old, my family visited a nearby desert to see its famous desert flower blooms. We also went on a 3 mile trek. We had a great day! Unfortunately, as we were coming back from our hike, there was a downpour. This was in the middle of February when it was still quite cold.

Sniffles and Snuffles!

We were in the middle of nowhere and were totally unprepared for it. Ice-cold rain started lashing on us. My husband ran ahead with my younger son, who was still a baby and who was very fortunately well covered. Big A and I slowly made our way for about a mile through rough, rocky terrain, which was getting slippery, becoming progressively soaked and bedraggled.

Once in the car, even with the heater on and having shed Big A’s clothes, he was still shivering. It had become evening and the rain, instead of letting up, had become snow. We then made our way back home, which was a 3 hour drive, in rain and snow. Big A was exhausted and fell asleep on the way. I put him in bed with some Vicks Vaporub on his chest, and prepared for an all night vigil, sure that he would develop fever sometime during the night.

Nothing happened. He woke up the next day, as chirpy as a sparrow and went off to his friend’s house for another energetic round of play. This incident reminded me of an ancient ritual in a country called Sparta, a part of the Roman Empire. They would leave their infants out in the rain. Their logic was that the child who could not survive the rains was not fit to be a Spartan. Unwittingly, we had put Big A through such a test and we got a chance to see his endurance capacity.

Now that I have a second son, I realize that I am not as anxious to keep him safe from infections, coughs and colds as I am in having him endure them to help him build his resistance. I don’t want to wrap him up in cotton wool. I want him to pick up things from the floor, put them in his mouth and develop a tummy upset, so that next time he does so, he will have built his resistance, even if for a little bit. That’s how I brought up Big A, who has sampled the sands of every beach in California when he was a child, who used to develop stomach upsets every second month too. Now, I cannot remember the last time he was ill.

Do you think this type of parenting is wrong? There is an article titled The Hygiene Hypothesis first proposed by Dr. David P. Strachan. I was not aware of this when I started my novel parenting on Big A, but it substantiates what I believe in. Think of it this way; if you don’t exercise your muscles, they become flabby. If you don’t exercise your brain, it becomes lethargic. If you don’t expose and exercise your immune cells to different stimuli in the shape of infectious agents, they lose their power to be quickly activated. It’s what happens if we keep giving our children antibiotics too.

Now consider another situation. What happens if you have several able-bodied young individuals in a community who are also unemployed and who do not have much chance to be active? You may well expect them to resort to vandalism as an outlet for their latent energy. The Hygiene Hypothesis also proposes that rising incidences of allergies in developed countries to be a result of these excess precautions of cleanliness. We, in India, have never heard of allergies which are so severe, such as peanut allergy that you can actually die from them.

So what am I trying to say here? Am I telling people never to give their kids a bath, let them wallow in mud and eat putrid food? They won’t develop allergies to be sure; they’ll just contract some deadly salmonella infection! I am not against basic common sense hygiene, good eating habits and discipline. I am against all those advertisement of cleaning agents, Lysol and Kleenex, and air purifiers that urge you to purge your house of all bacteria and viruses by wiping every surface with their product. I am against health care practitioners who treat any sniffle with doses of antibiotics. I am also against pharmaceutical companies who try to convince you that you have such diseases as restless leg syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome and acid reflux disease and try to stuff you with all kinds of new drugs.

I don’t want to rush to the medicine cabinet every time I hear my child sniff. I don’t want to make my house so neat and clean that my kids feel uncomfortable to play in it. I want my kids to be healthy and strong, not mollycoddled. I don’t want to persuade any of you to practice what I am preaching, because I don’t believe in that also. These are just some of my thoughts and observations which I have made over the course of the many years since I had my first child, and I thought I would share them with you!

Roshni was born and brought up in Calcutta and is now living in California. Her two rambunctious boys, Big A, age 8, and Little a, age 4, are the main subjects of her blog and she can be found tweeting away (@RoshniAaMom) in her free time (you may well ask, what free time?!)


  • Priyanka Mahanta Pandiyan

    Loved your article. I have a 19 month old girl and she eats from the floor, playground, bird-bowl and from anywhere else she fancies, all the time. I let her be as this is the time when children should enjoy themselves and stopping them all the time really kills their joy. Of course I keep an eye on her all the time to make sure she isn’t eating something she shouldn’t. So far she’s healthy and happy, so yeah, I could relate to your post.

    • Thanks, Priyanka! ahahahha…can imagine a lot of irritated birds at your place! I’m glad that you let her be most of the time….it kills anyone’s enjoyment to hear ‘no’ all the time!

  • Roshini, I think that’s how we grew up as kids. We used to drink tap water from school water tanks – we dont even know when it was cleaned.
    We get hurt and just wipe it off with water and start running, instead of pouring dettol over it or taking an TT injection.
    We ate fruits and berries and even neem leaves off the trees, without washing.
    And we still survive with better immunity.

    Am glad you look into things in the same way !!!

    • Absolutely! We thankfully missed the helicopter parenting era and are much better equipped because of it! I still eat phuchkas/pani puris when I visit India!! Part of the joy of visiting is to be able to eat street food!! 😀

  • Hi Roshni… I am glad some mom is not raising bubble babies.

    • Thanks, desi traveler. I definitely do not want to mollycoddle my kids!

  • hmhm… My grand mother would agree with you word for word. The way she puts us through all hell – when she wants us to work and the way she is always there exuding confidence from her frail structure….

    Was quite a good read.

    • hahahhaha!! ‘Hard work never killed anybody’, right?!!
      Thank you!!

  • I agree with you. I remember my brother in law from Mumbai cautioning me against letting my sons play in the backyard. He said they will get all sorts of allergy, soil allergy being one of them. It seems children of people residing in flats, who have never ever played in the soil get some such when they first come into contact with mud/soil.

    • That reminds me on so many levels of all the songs related to ‘desh ki mitti”! 😀

      It is sad that many kids have never played with mud or felt grass beneath their feet!

  • Your right . Its an applicable theory 🙂

  • Roshni, bang on! Our parents probably knew they were doing good, or maybe they didnt, but in disguise they sure did. And I totally agree on the very important point you made here- if you do get a chance, do watch “America’s medicated kids all 4 parts by Louis Theroux 🙂

    • Sure will, Poonam!! Thanks so much for your comment!

  • With you 100% and I think Doctors are starting to agree as well. I had a Dr. recently tell me he believes Peanut butter allargies are as result of fear because of a very rare allergy parents keep PB away from their children and they do not develope an immunity.

    Puppies eat their own poop!

    • ahahahhaha!! Would not advocate the poop eating 😛 but totally with you on everything else!! 😀

  • i am with you dear on this! kids need to be kids

  • Great post Roshni and I’m definitely with you on this stuff…I never worried about my kids playing in a sandbox or rushing them to the doctor for every little ailment. I agree that antibiotics seem to be prescribed way too much. Thanks for sharing on this topic.

    • You’re most welcome! I try and avoid antibiotics as much as possible. If they have fever, it is really a good thing; it’s a sign of an immune system fighting back. I only give fever reducers when the fever crosses 102 and they are really uncomfortable.

  • I am very much like you Roshni. Non fussy, non panic….take it easy types. I let them be dirty, let them Play with everything, eat everything. I clean but not clean clean all the time. I know not everyone has to agree to your post, but I would like to be like this. Both my kids never had ear infections, frequent colds etc..may be their immune system is good too..touch wood.. 🙂

    • Touchwood! We’ve had all kinds of infections in the early infant days, but luckily these are more infrequent now. I’m hoping this is because they are able to ward off the more common ailments by themselves without the need for medication.
      Yes, of course, everyone need not agree and there are kids who do have allergies or less resistance and I definitely cannot advocate an easy approach for them!

  • This is what I subscribe to … to expose my kiddo to everything without worrying about germs she might catch. She has her own umbrella, which she insists on carrying herself. I encourage this, and she gets almost half wet .. But that’s the part of learning isn’t it? Also, I give her fridge cold water, yoghurt and an almost taboo – ice-cream. She is just fine!

    • how cute….I can imagine her bravely hanging on to her little umbrella, getting progressively drenched!! I so miss the Monsoons in San Diego!!

  • Rachna Parmar

    True Roshni. I am still a great believer in ghar ke nuskhe. And my pediatrician is very good. He only gives medications as a last resort. Besides viral infections are not meant to be treated with antibiotics. US is sort of crazy with these paranoia. And then when the NRIs come to India, they go bonkers with their precautions :).

    • Exactly; people should realize that there is no medicine for viral infections; and in the US, people do over-prescribe medicines! I know what you mean by NRIs falling sick the minute the land in India; seen it happen a number of times with my relatives when they visited us….we on the other hand, visit the neighborhood pani puriwallah, chaatwallah, and pav bhajji wallah the day we arrive (like a darshan, you know ;))

  • i agree with you .. we should let them build immunity, and just not go by antibiotics all the time.. finally succeeded in convincing my in-laws to let my daughter play in sands. in fact they dont allow my daughter to mingle with other kids in park as they think, my daughter would get some diseases from them.. 🙂

    • And, that would have been sad if she was not able to enjoy her childhood unfettered!

  • Absolutely, whole heartedly agree 🙂
    My kids, specially daughter loves playing in sand when we go home to Kerala for holidays, she takes sand bath, literally. I used to worry about how to clean her up, then thought some sand in her hair for a few days is not going to do any harm 😉
    Your post reminded me of the sun baths that our grandfather used to make us do. We would be stripped to our panties and made to lie down on the hot sand with a huge banana leaf covering us. After sweating as much as we could, would come a bath in the canal. Heaven, it used to be 🙂

    • That sounds awesome! I’m completely a sun and sand worshiper!!

  • Swaram

    Totally with u 🙂

  • Very true. I was a fussy mom in first one year and then I almost totally let go… whether it is dirt, chalk, paint… I don’t know what else resides in his stomach.

    A good post.

    • I know…..for my first baby and first few months, I was also paranoid. But, it very quickly shed off! It helps when you have studied Immunology and understand how the system is supposed to work!

  • Agree with you, Roshni. Antibiotics and a pain-killer for anything and everything is just not right! Over protecting them will do more harm than good!
    Interesting post!

    • Absolutely! And, this wiping everything with Lysol is the worst advice ever! I would rather my kids inhale some dust than a bunch of chemicals!!

  • I am like you .. not fussy over my daughter’s little colds but my husband is that overbearing father that who goes to a doctor for everything. so she sneezes a couple of times, we go to a doctor. Thankfully, our paed is understanding he sends us back most of the time with a prescription of steam intake.
    But I also know giving antibiotics for common cold is so common in India. I fight real hard each time to avoid these meds for my kid.

    • I would definitely point out the hazards of giving antibiotics for no good reason to him! I am with you to push back on such prescriptions!

  • *Applause*
    I’m bringing up my kids with the same thought process. I never give them medication unless they are burning with fever. Cold and sniffles are ignored, they go in their own sweet time. And everytime someone admonishes me for these liberties, I have just one example in mind. Look at the children of construction workers. They lie in the mud/sand all day. They play among rubble and have barely any medical benefits. But yet, keep one kid from a rich household and one from the sites together and you would know which one has a sturdier constitution, which one is more immune.
    Very well written. Keep it up 🙂

    • Thank you so much!! :))

  • I totally agree with you. Medication for every little thing is so unnecessary. From the beginning, I used to stay away from medication for daughter( and ourselves) unless it looked totally necessary. Yes children do pick up infections from others in schools and day cares, but more often than not, recover when the infection runs it’s course. Daughter has been fine, even with all the travelng we did. In the UK, GPs do not prescribe antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, and I know Indians, who bring their stock of antibiotics and just self medicate whenever they feel like. I find it even more alarming that they just feed the kids antibiotics based on doctors back home – how on earth can the diagnose something without even examining the child, is beyond me..

    As for allergies – I think they are not totally linked to immunity building by exposure to the environment- from what little I know. Some are even genetic, apparently.

    • You’re right about the genetics bit, Smitha! I guess I should not have written the piece in such a way to imply that all allergies are linked to lack of resistance. But, if you generally look at allergies in developed countries vs. developing countries, you will see a direct correlation. Many allergies are due to lack of immunity in the child and can go away with regulated exposure to the allergen. These types of allergies are better off treated with exposure to various environmental elements.

  • Amen! We have the same philosophy about building up resistance around here. My husband is in immunology, so he is adamant about it, and I trust him (and you!) on this one.

    • Thanks so much, Meredith!

  • Touch wood! Both the As seem healthy young brats! But I agree with you on the ‘too much hygiene’ thing. This probably explains why children who grow up in much less hygeine seem to be immune to a lot of ailments.

  • Pingback: Incident in a desert! - Indian American Mom()