Holistic Health for Children and Young People
Article by Ulrike Daukandt
Raising our children well is the most important job we have to do in our life. I believe that most parents would agree with this statement! Parents want their children to grow up with a wealth of health, happiness, and skills, which will help the young person to achieve what they want to achieve in their lives.
Childhood and adolescence is a prime time for growth and development – not only physically, but also emotionally and mentally. As parents, we can have a major influence on this. It is easy to identify a child’s physical needs–nutritious and balanced meals; sufficient rest and physical activity; and a healthy living environment. However, a child’s mental and emotional needs may not be as obvious. Children can suffer from stress just as much as adults – sometimes even more so. Let’s take our media for example: from a very young age children are bombarded with information and messages from digital sources such as television, mobile phones, and computer/games. While there are wonderful benefits from media, research is showing us that over-use can be harmful for children. Not only is the over-use the concern, but more so the content and its age-appropriateness.
Another source of children’s stresses is their school and social life. Friendships, bullying, homework, peer pressure, school attainment targets, and concerns about their appearance are never far from their minds. Family problems or breakdowns are another influential source of stress for young people. Every child reacts in their own way to the stress under which they find themselves. The pressure on young people can build up to a variety of manifested imbalances – emotional, mental, and physical. One example of emotional imbalance is fear, which itself comes in many forms: terror (nightmares); feeling scared of known things (spiders, darkness etc); and feeling scared of unknown things (superstition etc). There are of course many other ways in which emotional imbalances appear – lack of confidence, being self-critical, shyness, resent, anger, intolerance, jealousy, etc.
These emotional imbalances are closely linked to the behaviour and physical health of children. A child may show demanding, manipulating behaviours, or lack of interest in present circumstances in form of absent-mindedness or an inability to learn from experience. Children may well seem happy, and many indeed are, but some will wear a happy mask to hide their worries. A child with constant worrying thoughts may develop sleeping problems or concentration problems; a child who fears may holds the tension all day until sleep releases it in form of bed wetting; a child that feels unclean or self-dislike may develop obsessive and compulsive behaviours in form of constant hand washing, putting things in exact order, or even start self-harming. All these imbalances can lead to physical complaints, such as headaches, stomach upsets, increased asthma and eczema attacks, or general body tensions.
It is known that stressful situations cause the body to release hormones, including cortisol and adrenalin. Adrenalin prepares the body for instant action in response to the expected threat. This is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response which is a survival tactic of the body. Muscles tense to ensure optimum performance, the heart and lungs work extra hard to speed up the flow of blood and oxygen to the muscles and to the brain, breathing speeds up, blood pressure and pulse rate rise, and the bladder and bowels empty to make the body as light as possible. In primitive times the ‘fight or flight’ response worked perfectly: once the body discharged the increased energy supplies through fighting or fleeing, the person relaxed and normal functions were restored.
However, in modern times, although the stresses are more psychological, the body will still respond in this way. Unless children have the opportunity to reduce these stress hormones in physical activity- which, with an increasingly sedentary, screen-based lifestyle is often difficult- they build up and can cause the child to live a level of ‘crisis’ for days, months, or even years. Stress hormones also depress the immune system, which can lead to greater susceptibility to illnesses and allergies.
So how can we parents help to redress the balance?
Physical activity, a healthy diet, regular sleep, and fresh air are all essential ways of counter-balancing stress. A little more is however often required to restore and maintain emotional, mental, and/or physical health. Good mental and emotional health allows children to think clearly, develop socially, learn new skills, build self-esteem, and develop a positive mental outlook.
You can help your child to counterbalance negative stresses with holistic approaches.
One of them is regular caring touch. It is through touch - the very first way we communicate with a newborn- that children experience security and love, an essential ingredient for a child’s healthy growth and development. Much research has shown the benefit of caring touch: the Touch Research Institute in Miami has found that touch in the form of massage decreases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin, increases attentiveness in children as well as alleviatin mild depression, reducing pain, relieving anxiety, lowering breathing rates, and boosting the immune system. There are simple ways of learning massage techniques and sequences either from books or from workshops.
Massage is a special gift that you can share with your child and is a wonderful way of getting back ‘in touch’ with your child.
The Dr Bach Flower Remedies are a very effective option to support the child’s emotional health. The 38 different remedies are each aimed at treating a specific negative emotional state or personality type by encouraging the corresponding positive emotion. Children respond quickly to the remedies. Parents giving them to their children are often amazed by the positive effect the remedies have; screaming children find sudden relief, shy and fearful children find courage, impatient and angry children find peace. The Bach Flower Remedies are 100% safe and natural for children. Aromatherapy is another effective way of supporting your child’s health and well-being. Essential oils can be used in various ways: tissues, vaporisers, baths, crème’s, and massage blends to help children with a wide range of ailments. Lavender for example works wonders to help your child sleep, but also helps to boost the immune system. Roman Chamomile calms overactive children, lifts anxieties and soothes skin disorders associated with emotional stress, and Frankincense calms the breathing of Asthmatic children. There are far too many benefits to mention all of them. Children love smelling and choosing essential oils and you can help your child very effectively with the use of them.
In my professional experience I have come to understand that these three approaches have powerful positive effects on children’s emotional, mental, and physical health.
These are not only non-invasive and natural ways of supporting your child’s health and well-being, but also wonderful ways of engaging and learning more about your child and his or her needs.