Today’s parents are special. You have to be — you are raising children in a very different world and as my mother likes to remind me, “Things aren’t the way they used to be.”
…She’s right. Look around; they aren’t.
Food is injected and sprayed (funnily, so are many of our celebrity idols!). Water is laden with chemicals, as are the myriad of products we use, from deodorants to furniture to paint. There are so many stressors accompanying our modern lifestyle and parents are right to be alarmed because children are particularly vulnerable to them. From conception onwards, these stressors create a compounding effect and the result can be a child who is immune-challenged or who struggles to learn, to express themselves, to interrelate and to be truly healthy.
What is true health?
It is not simply a matter of ‘feeling fine’ or being free of symptoms. A true indicator of health is when the body is able to effectively adapt to the stressors placed on it. Yet many children today are supersized, undernourished and over-medicated—and their bodies are clearly not coping.
Meryl Streep once said, “It’s bizarre that the produce manager is more important to my children’s health than the paediatrician.”
Indeed, the pesticides, heavy metals, herbicides and fumigants used on generic produce have all been linked to abnormalities in behaviour, perception, cognition and motor ability during early childhood, even when exposure is at so-called harmless levels.1 If you feel overwhelmed by the effort needed to keep abreast of these health threats, the good news is that it is now easier than ever to access up-to-date information and tools to strengthen your family’s health. By understanding and reducing stressors, as parents we can potentially help our child avoid illness, alleviate symptoms and encourage optimal body functioning for all of life’s stages. An informed parent is an empowered parent, so here are some ideas to help your family move towards a greater quality of life.
ASK GOOD QUESTIONS
The quality of your life can be determined by the quality of questions you ask. As a parent, you can usually sense when something is not quite right with your child. If this is your hunch, then ask yourself the question, “why?”
If your child is chronically unwell, ask “why?” If your child’s bowels aren’t regular, ask “why?” If your child’s behaviour is poor, ask “why?” If your child can’t concentrate, ask “why?”
This might seem obvious but often the cause of imbalance is overlooked in the haste to remedy it with medicines. Imagine if all the fish in a lake were found to have deformities and cancerous tumours; how would biologists and wildlife experts tackle this issue? Do you think they would simply cut out the tumours and prescribe ongoing medication for the fish? No, that would be illogical. Instead they would ask “why?”
They would look at the ecosystem and consider the factors that have created the ill health of the fish, and they would set about eradicating these factors and creating solutions that offer future protection.
Now imagine a child who behaves aggressively; how would health experts tackle this problem? Is it logical to offer him medication for behavioral issues? Or should they be looking at the foods he is eating—foods that lack nutrition and life force, and that are supercharged with colours and additives? Or the fact that he is dehydrated? Or that he is over-stimulated by electronic gadgets and computers, or hardly ever raises a sweat outside or breathes fresh air?
Drugs are not always the answer. Collectively we are sicker and more reliant on medication then ever before. I believe we need to remember that we can take charge of our health by empowering ourselves with knowledge and awareness. We can commit to asking good questions and seeking logical answers and solutions, and in doing so we are better able to navigate our family’s health outcomes.
EDUCATE YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT THEIR OWN BODIES
Kids are fascinated with how the body works. From an early age make learning about the body fun. There are plenty of books, DVDs and websites that add visual impact. When kids learn how their body works and how to care for it, they also learn how to listen to it and respect it.
In our ‘quick-fix’ society, children are often given the message that when they are sick, they need medicine. However, if they are taught that health comes from within and that their bodies have tremendous intelligence and capacity to ward off illness, then early warning signs like a runny nose or a sore throat will not be seen as a sign to take antibiotics, but rather as an indication that they need to slow down, get lots of rest and boost their immunity with natural foods.
LOOK FOR SIGNS OF A BODY OUT OF BALANCE
As a parent it is important that you observe your children to see that they are integrating their world in age-appropriate ways. An imbalance can be indicated in many ways. A baby, for example, may cry or fuss during feeding and arch her back, her head may be an uneven shape, or she may not like lying on her tummy.2Becoming familiar with the expected developmental milestones will help you assess whether your child’s behaviour is problematic or not.
For older children, some warning signs of a body out of balance may be:2
- Slow recovery from minor illnesses or recurring colds, flus and allergies
- Poor balance and co-ordination
- Inability to concentrate
- Agitation, anxiety
- Over-sensitivity to environmental noises
- Eczema, pale skin, discolouration under their eyes
- A bloated tummy, constipation,
- Defiant or angry behaviour
- Consistently low mood, lack of enthusiasm for life
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fatigue upon waking, general sluggishness
The human body gives us many indicators that it is not able to handle the stressors placed upon it. Symptoms are a message from our body that there is a problem and that change is needed.
What moves a body out of balance?
Let’s consider some of the physical, emotional and toxic stressors that move a child’s body out of balance…
I recently watched a heart-warming TED talk in which the speaker, Shawn Anchor, recounted a personal childhood story. At the age of seven, when entrusted to play “nicely”with his four-year-old sister (he suggested playing “combat”), she fell off the top bunk bed and plummeted to the floor on all fours. As the shock set in on her little face and the tears welled up, young Shawn wracked his seven-year-old brain to save the day and said, “Amy, Amy, wait don’t cry! Did you see how you landed? No human lands on all fours like that. Amy… I think this means you are a unicorn”.
This story is a reminder of just how common knocks and falls are in childhood. It is estimated that the age of three, a child will have had three major falls—for example, off change tables, out of a cot or down a flight of stairs. Many infants land on their head multiples times during their first year of life and potentially by the age of seven, a child may have fallen thousands of times.
The “bounce-back” resilience exhibited by children typically hides subtle damage that leads to poor postural and neurological function across time. 2Each seemingly insignificant slip and fall adds up. As the branch bends, so grows the tree…
Physical stressors can impact the body even before birth.3 The vertebrae of a foetus’s tiny spine can be misaligned (known as a subluxation) due to restricted positioning in the womb. Movement within the womb is vitally important as it stimulates the development of the brain and nervous system, while research suggests that a lack of mobility may be one contributing factor for developmental delay.4
Spine and nerve distress due to the birth process itself are exceedingly common. Contributing factors include false labour, a long or very short labour, failure of the mother’s cervix to dilate, the use of drugs to increase contraction intensity, the use of vacuum extraction or forceps, caesarean section delivery, and the cord around the baby’s neck. Even straightforward vaginal births can create subluxations.5
This is why chiropractors recommend parents take their babies to have their spine checked post-birth. When the nervous system is not functioning well it has the potential to affect the communication channels of the body and impact on all aspects of health, including neurological development and the baby’s capacity to sleep, to breastfeed and to digest milk.6
Another modern hazard to health for your child’s health is posture. It is estimated that 32 per cent of young children (aged two to seven) and 65 per cent of older children (aged eight to eighteen) have a television in their bedroom and that the average child spends approximately 6.5 hours watching various media each day.7 Repetitive or prolonged postures while watching television and playing computer games can certainly impact a developing spine.
 Find a wellness chiropractor. Chiropractors can assess how your child’s spine and nervous system is adapting to the lifestyle stressors placed upon it, and regular chiropractic adjustments help to support optimal growth and nerve function.
Over the last few decades we have come a long way in learning how health is taxed by environmental chemicals. We now know that unborn babies and breastfed children are exposed to toxins that a mother inhales or ingests, or that pass through her skin. It was once thought that the placenta shielded the foetus from these toxins but in fact the umbilical cord carries not only the building blocks of life but also a steady stream of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides that cross the placenta just as readily as residues from cigarettes and alcohol.
It is estimated that approximately 60 per cent of our immune cells reside in our colon (bowel). Our modern lifestyle compromises our digestive strength every day—poor dietary habits, antibiotics, lack of water and environmental toxins destroy important flora or good bacteria of the bowel, affecting our digestive capacity and impacting our immune system. Chemical stress may result from chlorine and fluoride found in water and the many toxins found in food, including pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, colourings, additives, hormones, damaged fats and high levels of sugar.
When these toxins accumulate in the body, the core energy of the body is weakened. Sadly, millions of children suffer with eczema, asthma, allergies, sleep problems and behavioural difficulties—to name but a few of the repercussions.
 Eat well.Buy high quality organic fruits and vegetable. If you are unable to purchase organic produce then buy a fruit and vegetable wash which helps to remove pesticides. Explore the Environmental Working Group’s website (www.ewg.org); they are a not-for-profit environmental research organisation that has developed a pesticide guide for fruits and vegetables.
 Drink well. One of the simplest and most important things you can do is invest in a water filter to protect your family against chemically-treated water. Most of our drinking water today contains chlorine and chlorination by-products, as well as numerous other contaminants.
Drinking good quality water promotes detoxification, enhances nutritional uptake and ensures optimal hydration. Help your children develop the habit of drinking water throughout the day rather than juices and soft drinks. A mere two per cent drop in our body’s water supply can trigger signs of dehydration: fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math and difficulty focusing on smaller print, such as a computer screen. Many children are frequently dehydrated, suffering with concentration issues, constipation and digestive problems.
 Use probiotics. High quality probiotics can provide the necessary bacteria for a healthy gut, and they are an essential aide to digestive health for all children. I would recommend taking these a few times a week.
 Visit your allied health practitioners. For your child to enjoy long-standing digestive health it is imperative to ensure that their bowel is receiving effective nerve messages from the central nervous system. Chiropractic adjustments aim to remove nerve dysfunction, allowing the body the opportunity to restore balance and re-build bowel and immune strength. I would also recommend utilising the expertise of Chinese Medicine practitioners and homeopaths to assist with health challenges.
 Audit your household.Take an audit of the number of processed foods in your pantry, fridge and your children’s lunch boxes. Consider how many prescriptions your child has had in the last twelve months or over their lifetime. Investigate the ingredients in your personal care products. There are now many good websites and books that can inform you about these dangers and show you how to reduce the risks in your own home.
“Man shapes himself through decisions
that shape his environment.” —Rene Dubos
It is important to realise that children are not immune to stress. Epigenetics and other areas of research show us that emotional stress affects human beings at all stages of life, including in utero, creating changes at a cellular level that can be detrimental to a child’s future health.8
One of the causes of emotional stress is a hostile or uneasy environment at home or school. If a child feels their safety or the safety of either parent is threatened, physiological responses arise which can result in anxiety, personality issues or health complaints.
Chronic emotional stress in turn creates digestive stress, altering the body’s fine acid/alkaline balance. These deleterious effects are exacerbated by short, rapid breathing patterns known to accompany stress, increasing the body’s acidity woes. When the bowel is acidic our digestive strength weakens.
Poor sleep habits can also contribute to unnecessary stress in the household. If a child does not wake up easily and with energy each morning, this could indicate they are not getting enough quality sleep. As a parent you might need to pick your battles but ensuring your children get enough sleep is a battle you should be determined to win every time, because children cannot concentrate, learn tasks or play sports well when their bodies are chronically tired. When tired, children will also crave sugary foods that leave them prone to yeast imbalances.
 Limit the late nights. It is a good idea to limit the number of late nights that children have in a week. With social, school and family activities, bedtimes can gradually become later and later for older children; however, sleep requirements remain just as vital for teenagers as when they are younger. It turns out that teenagers may actually need more sleep than in their younger years.
 Send them to bed early. Try getting your children to bed an hour earlier for a period of time and watch how this can transform grumpy or emotional behaviour.
 Implement a set routine. Having a set routine for dinner and bedtime makes life easier for everyone, as it gives the body and mind cues to slow down, relax and prepare for sleep.
 Encourage them to exercise. Children sometimes resist sleep because they are not doing enough physical exercise during the day. Encourage children to exercise frequently. Families can create regular rituals in and around exercise, such as going cycling together, playing in the garden, or learning a sport.
 Spend time together. Limit television and electronic time and spend more time together as a family, relaxing and connecting, free of agendas.
 Learn new skills. Parenting is hard. However, there are many tools and skills you can learn to make life easier. Decrease the stress in your household by committing to learning new proactive parenting skills each year. This can keep you inspired and inventive when challenges arise.
“Our chief want in life is somebody
who can make us do what we can.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Admittedly, I have spent many anxious moments contemplating the enormity of parenting. I love Emerson’s quote because it reminds me that while it feels like hard work to create positive lifestyle changes for our children, the good news is there is so much that we can do to protect our children’s health and nurture their minds and bodies.
It is never too late to influence the health of the little people in our lives; it just takes courage, commitment and learning to trust your intuition.
Together there is much to learn and explore.
. . . . .
Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani