With the events of the past few years, a lot of parents are looking for a more integrative approach to health care. Holistic health for children looks at the child as a whole, promoting healthy lifestyle habits and a flourishing environment.
What’s great about holistic health is that it actively promotes good health, rather than the modern idea of medicine that happens in reaction to disease. There’s a whole philosophy around integrative medicine that’s actually good for the whole family, that is all about balance, self-awareness, and wellness.
What is holistic health?
Holistic health’s goal isn’t to cure diseases but to prevent them. This is quite a mindset shift. Rather than go see a doctor when we fall ill, we work on ourselves preventatively to avoid getting sick but also to live happy fulfilling lives.
For this integrative approach, there’s the idea that we are one entity that is the sum of interdependent aspects that need to be in harmony. These elements bring together our physical, emotional, and spiritual states, which all affect our balance.
Is comprehensive medicine a real thing?
When we talk about holistic health, comprehensive medicine, or as we do in the UK Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), this englobes an array of medical fields and treatments that have been proven useful and effective. This can include acupuncture, Chinese or ayurvedic medicine, homeopathy, psychotherapy as well as western medicine.
When seeking a holistic treatment for a disease, we try to understand the root issues that have led to the imbalance and remedy it with means that are as non-invasive as possible with the patient wholly involved. An integrative doctor will often suggest a few treatments in parallel to lifestyle changes to regain balance between the body and the mind.
The 5 dimensions of holistic philosophy
Typically, the conventional approach of looking at symptoms to establish a diagnosis to prescribe drugs doesn’t look at the root cause of issues. With integrative health, we look at the person as the sum of 5 dimensions that are all interconnected. Overall, the goal is to be balanced in these 5 aspects of our life.
From our diet, fitness, and sleep to our aches and physical symptoms, all of this gives us an idea of our physical health.
Studies show that there’s a strong connection between our emotional state and our physical health. You’ve probably experienced it first hand too. For example, a period of stress at work and the apparition of unusual back pain or cramps?
This dimension is the one that shows best the interdependence between the 5 dimensions. It’s usually easy to understand how feelings of anxiety, anger, or shame can affect our physical and mental health.
This dimension is about family, friends, and feeling part of a supportive group. Our social wellbeing has a big impact on our emotional balance.
We benefit from surrounding ourselves with people we trust, who are positive and sincere. Our social wellness is higher when we feel loved and when we can depend on others when needed. Similarly, setting healthy boundaries with people who are negative or drain us of our energy is equally important.
Rather than spirituality through the lens of organized religion, holistic health views it as something more organic. In this context spirituality is about feeling connected to nature as a whole and that we are part of something greater than ourselves.
Our cognitive health is about how we think and focus, our memory, and our decision-making capacities. When we are balanced in this dimension, there is an alignment between who we are and what we say and do.
Psychotherapy is an important tool when we need to reconnect to our true self and improve our cognitive health.
How to approach your kids’ health holistically?
One of the wonderful things about holistic health for children is that it’s more of a lifestyle than a cure. Teaching our kids to live in a mindful, present manner to feel well balanced and be healthy can set them up for a fulfilling life.
Some benefits of holistic health for children include:
First of all, teaching children that they are in charge of their wellbeing is incredibly powerful. As much as it can be tempting to let them eat a full candy container so that their subsequent belly ache dissuades them from doing it again… Teaching our kids that the decisions they make directly affects how good they feel can be simple.
Start by making them aware of their state of being. For example, when they go playing outside, running around, and getting their blood pumping, ask them how they feel. Most likely, “happy,” “excited,” and “good,” will be among their answers. Explain to them how getting some exercise, and having fun with their friends… are all contributing to their feelings. Little by little, they will become more self-aware.
Healthy sustainable habits
There’s no minimum age to start enjoying nutritious foods and exercising. Our kids learn by imitating us. So rather than spending the evening in front of screens and treating yourself to industrial chips and cakes, make it a habit to exercise as a family and feast on fresh-cut fruits.
Teach them about balance, they can still watch their cartoon and have their nuggets, but ideally, that’s not every evening. Grabbing a book or doing crafts, helping mum in the kitchen, these should be everyday habits.
There’s a big difference between being fed information and entertainment versus being active and doing things. In the era of social media, this is probably one of the biggest things we can teach our children.
The 5 dimensions of holistic health for children
Here are 5 quick tips for teaching about the 5 health dimensions we discussed:
- Physical: no parents want their kids to turn into couch potatoes, so make movement part of their everyday. Let them try out different sports and forms of exercise. This will develop their motor skills and strength.
- Emotional: teach them to put words on how they feel. Identifying their negative emotions and expressing them is an important outlet for stress and anxiety. All they need to start is a box of crayons and paper to draw their emotions.
- Social: unless they are homeschooled, your kids are probably getting a pretty active social life. For balance, they also need to learn to feel good doing activities on their own, without any screens or TV in the background. Playing in their room alone, drawing, doing crafts… All these activities contribute to nourishing their creativity and feeling good when they are alone with their thoughts too.
- Spiritual: for this dimension, I love going on walks with my son and observing the beauty of nature together. From admiring the change in the season, the big trees and moving clouds, to the smallest clovers and little bugs. This makes us appreciate how we are part of a beautiful thing called life.
- Cognitive: our brains need to be actively challenged. For our kids, that’s usually easy since they are constantly learning new things at school. However, our educational system tends to overlook critical thinking. Try asking your child what they think about a story you’re reading together. What would they recommend the hero do or say? What is their take on the events the character goes through? This will help them look at a situation and think outside the box.
As we have seen, holistic health is much greater than the conventional concept of healthcare. I hope you will enjoy teaching your kids about their wellbeing and that in the process you get to better your wellness too.
Want more parenting inspiration? Check out my article “The terrible twos: a parents’ guide.”
Until next time, Tania xx