Ask any primary school teacher and they will tell you that children go wild in the wind! Last week we had some unusually windy weather, and some very excitable and irritable children. In Chinese Medicine, we believe that people's energy often responds to and reflects what is going on in the external environmental. Wind is very yang in nature - it is quick, changeable, unpredictable, suddenly flares up and then dies down again. And we often see children doing exactly this when they are out in the wind! As I've mentioned before, children are very yang in nature anyway (compared to adults) and so they particularly resonate with the wind. For most children, we hope that their response to the wind will, at worst, just mean their parents and teachers feel a bit more exhausted than normal at the end of the day. But for children with chronic conditions, such as hyperactivity, ADHD, headaches and skin diseases, particularly windy weather can mean a temporary flare up in their symptoms. We can't change the weather, but there are a few things we can do to counterbalance the effect of the wind. Reducing any activities that generally stimulate and excite children, making sure that children wrap up when they go outside (particularly protecting their head, ears and neck), and making sure we keep sugar and additives to a minimum can all make a difference. Other than that, sit tight and wait for the wind to die down!
I have had a long involvement in sport both as a player and coach, particularly in hockey. My father was a club and national coach and I (funnily enough) have spent the last 12 years being a club and county coach for junior players in Oxfordshire.
Over the years I have a had a steady stream of 12-18 year olds come to me with sports injuries. Most of them are hockey related but I have also had a fair share of football, cricket, gymnastics and athletics related injuries.
Acupuncture is often the best intervention for acute/inflamed traumas. When you have been hurt and there is swelling and inflammation it is not possible to physically mobilise the body without causing more pain. Acupuncture however can remove pain and inflammation without any need to mobilise or manipulate muscles and joints. This makes it a very useful therapy, after ice, rest, compression etc. to begin the healing process.
Most cases I treat are typically sprains, bruises, and pulled muscles either from falling awkwardly or from being hit by a hard ball. In some cases I also treat ‘elite athletes’ who have recurring muscle problems through over-training. Some young gymnasts train 4 hours a day 5 days a week! I often work hand in hand with a physiotherapist for players with big demands on their bodies as acupuncture alone is not enough.
I also see players who have been brought to a halt with growing pains.
Sometimes these pains have labels such as Osgood Sclatters disease which affects the patella and knee, particularly in adolescents who are highly active and going through puberty. Acupuncture can really help with pain and restriction in these cases, and I have seen many promising players continue their sport at a high level despite these problems.
There are of course injuries and muscle traumas that need careful management and often proper rest in order to get better. Acupuncture cannot miraculously restore a body that has been punished for too long!
But in many cases superficial sports injuries in children/young adults respond fast to acupuncture. This is partly because acupuncture is so well suited to this kind of trauma, and also because children and young adults have the capacity to move on quickly from trauma with the appropriate intervention.
Most of us feel a mixture of relief and happiness when the first signs of spring appear. We get a bounce in our step and sometimes a surge in vitality too. In Chinese Medicine, spring is a time when yang (the warm and active part of our energy) rises.
One would think that the end of winter would herald the end of pale, pasty and snotty children. And it often does. However, over the last couple of weeks I have had a lot of children come through the doors of the Panda Clinic with "spring diseases". In Chinese Medicine terms, when spring arrives pathogens that have been lurking in our bodies throughout the winter, are often brought to the surface. Just as, in nature, bulbs flower and blossom appears on the trees, the extra heat brings things to the surface of the body. Yang is rising, but in children it sometimes rises a bit too much and a bit too quickly!
This manifests in different ways in different children. There is an increased incidence of febrile diseases, such as chicken pox, at this time of year. The pock marks are literally a manifestation of heat that has been lurking in the body coming to the surface. Children with skin diseases such as eczema may have a temporary flare up.
I have heard a lot of parents recently saying they "don't know what has got in to" their child. They aren't sleeping so well, are more ratty, cross and irritable. Springtime is related to the Liver organ in Chinese medicine. The Liver Qi (energy) has to work quite hard to adapt to the change in the external conditions that come in spring. What's more, as if often the case in the UK, there is often a period of a few weeks when it's warm one day, and cold again the next. This constant fluctuation in temperature puts the Liver Qi under more strain. These emotional changes that parents notice are a reflection of the Liver Qi trying, but struggling, to adapt. In Chinese Medicine theory, we say that "the Liver hates change."
In a few week time, however, both the weather and our children should be more settled. The heat that is coming to the surface needs to be expelled and it is the sign of a robust child that their body is trying to do this. The Yang will have risen, the Liver energy settled back down and calm will once more reign!!
This is the view in front of my house at the moment! Very beautiful but very damp! Wolvercote is always a particularly damp part of Oxford - nestled on the flood plain between the river and the Canal, with the odd lake thrown in to boot. But the amount of water at the moment is exceptional.
Deeply embedded in Chinese culture and thinking is the idea that the external environment has a big effect on the internal workings of our body. So when it's damp outside, we become more Damp on the inside.
In children, Dampness most commonly manifests in any of the following symptoms: a snotty and running nose, a mucousy cough, puffiness, bloated tummy, mucous in the stools, flabby limbs, the needs for lots of sleep.
There are various simple things that we can do to help prevent our children becoming too Damp - and these things are especially important when the external environment is so damp. The first thing is to avoid Damp forming foods. The worst culprits are dairy products (milk, cheese and yoghurt), refined sugar, bananas and peanuts! The second thing is to keep moving! It's tempting when there are rain and wind storms outside to hunker down, watch more TV than usual and not really move much. And although it is appropriate at this time of year to hibernate a little and conserve our energy, we do need to balance this with movement.
So, get the kids well dressed up in hats, coats and scarfs and take them out to do some splashing around in puddles. Just make sure they don't stay in damp clothes for any length of time though.........!!
One of the questions I am asked most frequently is "Why does my child get increasingly hyperactive the more tired he/she gets?" Most parents know that there is often a price to pay for a later than normal bedtime - it becomes trickier for the child to fall asleep.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, we all consist of yin and yang. Yin enables us to be calm, still and restful. Yang enables us to be active, awake and energetic. Children are said to have "insufficient yin" which is why they are constantly active, moving around and demanding attention. As the day goes on, and as a child becomes more tired, they use up their yin energy. This means that the later they go to bed, and the more tired they are, the less calm, still and restful energy they have available in order for them to be able to get to sleep!
It is often hard for our babies and children to avoid being overtired with the very full and stimulating lifestyles we all tend to lead in the 21st century in the West. But it can help the entire family if we, as parents, try to make sure our children go to bed on time and don't get overtired. Not only do bedtimes generally become easier, but most parents notice that their children actually sleep better if they are not overtired. Not only is this good for their health (and the parents health and sanity!) but it usually has a positive impact on a child's behaviour. Children are not generally able to cope with a lack of sleep in the way that we learn to as adults.
It's a simple change to make - but if you think your child is chronically overtired, and bedtimes are usually not fun for anyone, spend a week trying to bring bedtime half an hour forward and you may well be surprised at the benefits for everyone!
The weather finally seems to be turning colder after an incredibly mild autumn. Taking my children to school this morning, their little fingers began to feel a bit frosty for the first time this term and it was a reminder to get out mittens, hats and scarfs for the coming few weeks.
It was also a reminder that it would be a wise move to change both the contents of their packed lunches and some of what we eat at home too. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, children's digestive systems are not fully developed until the age of about 7 or 8. Therefore what they eat is even more important for children than it is for adults. It doesn't take much to upset their delicate systems. And if the digestion of a young child is not working well, it has the potential to impact other areas of their health and also their behaviour.
Every child needs a slightly different diet. But there are two general rules which are a good guide for all children:
So now is the time for porridge at breakfast rather than cornflakes, and apple crumble rather than raw fruit or yoghurt straight from the fridge for pudding. Including warming spices such as cinnamon, ginger and garlic in your cooking will make any food energetically warmer. Having some warm soup alongside for example, sandwiches, at lunchtime is a good idea.
If you are interested in the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach to a child's diet, take a look at this document that I prepared for a recent talk I gave to parents.
Chinese Dietary Wisdom for Children
Every parent knows that, for some reason, most young children resist wrapping up warm as the weather gets colder. It's wise to pick your battles as a parent, but is this one thing that we should insist upon? Or do children not want to wear warm clothes because they really don't need to?
In Chinese Medicine terms, children are yang beings. Yang energy keep us warm so when we adults are struggling to stop shivering despite our layers of fleeces and coats, it is probably a fair cry when our child says "But I am boiling hot, mummy." Unfortunately though, feeling warm is not the same thing as being well protected from the cold.
There is a type of qi (energy) which roughly equates to the part of our immune system which protects us from colds and coughs. It's called Defensive (Wei) Qi and in Chinese Medicine it is to do with the Lungs. Lung Qi is inherently weak in children up to the age of about 7 or 8 and therefore there is not so much Defensive (Wei) Qi at the surface of a child's body protecting him or her from the elements. Therefore it really is important that our children wrap up warm in the cold weather.
You may also have noticed that only 5 or 10 minutes after protesting about putting on extra clothes, a young child may be crying that they are too cold and they want to go back home. This is another reflection of their Defensive (Wei) Qi being weak. Defensive (Wei) Qi not only protects us from external pathogens but also keeps us warm.
So, though it may be tedious to have to coax children into wearing appropriate clothing at this time of year, it is usually worth the energy spent on it. It will not only mean that they are likely to get fewer coughs and colds, but it also has some longer term benefits too. And that will be the subject of my next post! In the meantime, with one of the most severe storms in decades battering the south and west of the country, wrap up warm!
I am an acupuncturist with almost 15 years of clinical experience. I am passionate about children's health and wellbeing, which is why I founded The Panda Clinic. I believe that much of the old wisdom contained in the theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine can benefit children today.