When your kids hear the word bacteria, they may automatically think of evil critters that are out to cause harm—and they may even feel a little scared. After all, most hygiene curriculums from preschool on up typically emphasize keeping undesirable germs at bay, without taking into account what we now know is the whole story.
Yes, bacteria tend to get a bad rap, but the truth is, they’re not all bad! The vast majority of bacteria are completely harmless—and many helpful bacterial strains are actually important for good health.1
Educating kids about their invisible microbial communities will fascinate and empower them as they begin to take charge of their own gut health and overall well-being. If you’ve been wondering how to teach kids about their amazing gut bugs without getting overly technical or complicating things unnecessarily, these simple ideas should provide the basics.
Bacteria for Kids 101
An easy way to start familiarizing kids with their friendly gut bugs is to let your child know he has a tiny team of superheroes that he’s always carrying around with him. Here are a few fun facts to get the conversation going:
• Not all bacteria are bad, and the friendly varieties are called probiotics.
• There are many, many types of probiotics—and each has its own special way of helping people to keep feeling their best.
• None of us is ever alone! We each carry around trillions of microbes inside us and on us, and the probiotic ones are true friends, constantly working to keep us healthy and happy—and crowding out the types of bacteria we don’t want.2,3 But these guys are so teeny-tiny they can’t be seen without a microscope.
• Each of us has a number of distinct, active living communities of these microbes inside the gut, in the mouth, on the skin, and in other parts of the body. These communities are called microbiomes.
• No two microbiomes are ever exactly the same.4 So not only is your child’s gut microbiome different from that of his best friend—it’s also different from his own skin microbiome!
• Our microbiomes are always shifting their balance in response to their environment, which means the number of good guys inside us today probably isn’t the same as it was yesterday.5 When we take good care of our probiotic friends, their numbers grow—and they become better equipped to take good care of us!
What Can Probiotic Superheroes Do?
Once kids discover they have tiny allies on board, they’ll probably want to know all about what their unique team can do for them. You can let them know that a hearty probiotic superhero team helps kids:
• Stay strong and healthy: Those minuscule friends help kids maintain the energy they need to have the energy to run, jump, and play, so they won’t feel under the weather and miss out on the fun.6
• Feel calm and happy: A balanced gut helps kids stay focused and roll with everyday stressors (like pop quizzes and difficult friend situations), so they can breeze comfortably through life and school.7
• Keep looking great: Probiotic gut bugs make it easier for kids to maintain beautiful skin, teeth, and hair—and they help with healthy weight management.8.9,10
• Digest food comfortably: Probiotic superheroes help keep kids' bellies happy and help them maintain regularity.
Encourage Your Kids to Strengthen Their “Team”
One of the best gifts you can give your kids is the confidence that they alone have the power to care for their microbial friends. You may want to compare it to being the captain of a softball team with the opportunity to choose his players. A good captain knows the team needs as many skilled players as possible, but also knows he has to make sure his team has a variety of players with different skills—such as a talented catcher, pitcher, hitter, outfielder, and runner.
It’s not much different on the microbial playing field, and as the gut bug captain, your child’s goal is to recruit a solid probiotic team with as much diversity as possible. Let your kids know that’s actually much easier than it sounds—and lots more fun, too! To support the strength and diversity of their probiotic teams, kids can:
• Eat lots of whole plant foods: Yummy fruits and vegetables contain just the right nutrition to keep probiotic buddies happy and increase gut diversity.11
• Avoid processed foods and sugary desserts: Junk food doesn’t have the nutrients good gut bugs need to survive—but the unwanted types of bacteria actually thrive on it.12
• Enjoy cultured and fermented dishes: Foods that contain live cultures such as yogurt, kefir, miso, kimchi, and raw sauerkraut are a delicious way to “recruit” valuable new “team members”.
• Play outside: When kids spend time playing in nature—and get a little dirty—they’re exposed to lots of new probiotic friends, so their gut communities become more diverse. And just the exercise of active play benefits friendly flora!13
• Chill out: Stress is harmful to probiotics, but a little daily downtime relieves any stress kids are experiencing to help protect their beneficial microbes.14,15,16 Your kids might want to try a mindfulness game, children’s yoga class, or other relaxation technique.
• Give lots of hugs to family and close friends: From hugs to high-fives, skin-to-skin contact invites new probiotic friends into the microbial community—and releases endorphins that reduce stress, which supports the whole probiotic team!17,18
• Get a good night’s sleep: When your child gets just the right amount of sleep for his unique body every night, his microbiome benefits.19,20
Have a Gut Bug Play Date!
As your kids begin to appreciate their amazing probiotic superheroes, there are lots of creative ways to playfully reinforce and enrich this knowledge together. You might want to draw and paint pictures of friendly microbes with your kids, or even have them act out an epic battle between the superhero bugs and their villain foes that you can video and show at a family movie night.
If your kids like to spend time in the kitchen, set aside an afternoon to prepare yogurt, fermented dishes, and other gut healthy foods as a family. In the evening or for a rainy day activity, you can read them storybooks about friendly gut bugs, or play and cuddle probiotic plushies that look like Bifido and Acidophilus microbes.
More Fun Family Ways to “Strengthen the Team”
When parents embrace a gut healthy lifestyle, it’s only natural that kids want to get on board. Your whole family might enjoy these gut loving activities:
• Outdoor exercise such as cycling, skating, hiking, or biking
• Trips to petting farms and nature preserves
• Camping out at a real campground or in the backyard
• Parent-child dance, yoga, or martial arts classes
• Hand-washing dishes after dinner
• Fun clean up play with soap, water, and toys (instead of antimicrobials that kill probiotics, along with undesirable microbes).
To further encourage kids’ gut health, you’ll also want to supplement with a high-quality probiotic like PRO-Kids, and an oral formula to support dental and ENT health, like PRO-Kids ENT. And to make sure kids are giving their team all the nutrition it craves to do its best, you might also want to mix some organic prebiotic powder into their favorite soft foods and smoothies.
Making friends with their probiotic gut bugs gives kids a sense of agency as they take responsibility for their lives and health at an early age. The process will spark their imaginations right away, and reward them with glowing wellness for years to come.
1. Bacteria - National Library of Medicine - PubMed Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0022589/
2. Ursell, L. K., Metcalf, J. L., Parfrey, L. W., & Knight, R. (2012). Defining the human microbiome. Nutrition Reviews, 70, S38-S44. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00493.x
3. Shreiner, A. B., Kao, J. Y., & Young, V. B. (2015). The gut microbiome in health and in disease. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, 31(1), 69-75. doi:10.1097/mog.0000000000000139
4. Gilbert, J. A. (2015). Our unique microbial identity. Genome Biology, 16(1). doi:10.1186/s13059-015-0664-7
5. Conlon, M., & Bird, A. (2014). The Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Gut Microbiota and Human Health. Nutrients, 7(1), 17-44. doi:10.3390/nu7010017
6. Giloteaux, L., Goodrich, J. K., Walters, W. A., Levine, S. M., Ley, R. E., & Hanson, M. R. (2016). Reduced diversity and altered composition of the gut microbiome in individuals with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. Microbiome, 4(1).
7. Kato-Kataoka, A., Nishida, K., Takada, M., Kawai, M., Kikuchi-Hayakawa, H., Suda, K., . . . Rokutan, K. (2016). Fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota preserves the diversity of the gut microbiota and relieves abdominal dysfunction in healthy medical students exposed to academic stress. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 82(12), 3649-3658.
8. Bowe, W. P., & Logan, A. C. (2011). Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis - back to the future? Gut Pathogens, 3(1).
9. Zhang, Q., Wu, Y., & Fei, X. (2016). Effect of probiotics on body weight and body-mass index: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 67(5), 571-580.
10. Burton, J. P., Drummond, B. K., Chilcott, C. N., Tagg, J. R., Thomson, W. M., Hale, J. D., & Wescombe, P. A. (2013). Influence of the probiotic Streptococcus salivarius strain M18 on indices of dental health in children: A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Medical Microbiology, 62(Pt_6), 875-884.
11. David, L. A., Maurice, C. F., Carmody, R. N., Gootenberg, D. B., Button, J. E., Wolfe, B. E., … Turnbaugh, P. J. (2013). Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature, 505(7484), 559-563. doi:10.1038/nature12820
12. Myles, I. A. (2014). Fast food fever: reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity. Nutrition Journal, 13(1). doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-61
13. Clarke, S. F., Murphy, E. F., O'Sullivan, O., Lucey, A. J., Humphreys, M., Hogan, A., … Cotter, P. D. (2014). Exercise and Associated Dietary Extremes Impact on Gut Microbial Diversity. Gut, 63(12), 1913-1920. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2013-306541
14. Bailey, M. T., Dowd, S. E., Galley, J. D., Hufnagle, A. R., Allen, R. G., & Lyte, M. (2011). Exposure to a social stressor alters the structure of the intestinal microbiota: Implications for stressor-induced immunomodulation. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 25(3), 397-407. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2010.10.023
15. Bailey, M. T., Dowd, S. E., Parry, N. M., Galley, J. D., Schauer, D. B., & Lyte, M. (2010). Stressor Exposure Disrupts Commensal Microbial Populations in the Intestines and Leads to Increased Colonization by Citrobacter rodentium. Infection and Immunity, 78(4), 1509-1519. doi:10.1128/iai.00862-09
16. Konturek, P. C., Brzozowski, T., & Konturek, S. J. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 62(6), 591-599.
17. Tung, J., Barreiro, L. B., Burns, M. B., Grenier, J., Lynch, J., Grieneisen, L. E., … Archie, E. A. (2015). Social networks predict gut microbiome composition in wild baboons. eLife, 4. doi:10.7554/elife.05224
18. Dinan, T. G., & Cryan, J. F. (2012). Regulation of the stress response by the gut microbiota: Implications for psychoneuroendocrinology. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37(9), 1369-1378.
19. Voigt, R. M., Forsyth, C. B., Green, S. J., Mutlu, E., Engen, P., Vitaterna, M. H., … Keshavarzian, A. (2014). Circadian Disorganization Alters Intestinal Microbiota. PLoS ONE, 9(5), e97500. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0097500
20. Thaiss, C., Zeevi, D., Levy, M., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Suez, J., Tengeler, A., … Elinav, E. (2014). Transkingdom Control of Microbiota Diurnal Oscillations Promotes Metabolic Homeostasis. Cell, 159(3), 514-529. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.09.048
Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.
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