Someone asked me the other day what the most common piece of advice is that I give to the parents of children I treat. Without doubt, it is to suggest that they reduce their child’s commitments and create more downtime in their schedule. It has become the accepted norm for many school children to have a whole host of organised clubs and activities after school and at weekends. Most people consider this to be ‘a good thing’ so why is it that I so frequently suggest children do less?
The Chinese medical classic text known as ‘the Simple Questions’ (Su Wen) describes different cycles of life, each cycle lasting for approximately seven or eight years. The purpose of the first cycle is considered to be laying down the foundations of physical and emotional health, which can then be built upon in the next few cycles. This is akin to building strong foundations of a house, which will then provide a strong and solid base for years to come for whatever structure is built on top.
In order for the foundations of a child’s health to be strong, their qi needs to be available for the huge job of growing and developing. If it is expended by rushing around, being on the go and activities that stimulate the mind and body, it may mean that there is not enough left available for the child’s ‘foundations of health’ to become strong and resilient. It is easy to forget that the job of growing as fast as children do in the first years of life, and developing in so many myriad ways, consumes a lot of energy. Of course, children also need to be stimulated and benefit from being exposed to a wide range of activities but this should always be balanced with time to be still and lots of rest. Many of the health conditions that bring children to acupuncture are rooted in the fact that their qi has become depleted as a result of their daily schedule.
In the longer term, if we don’t teach our children how to be quiet and still, and to take breaks, then there is little chance of them being able to do this as adults. It can be hard as a parent to go against the tide but sometimes saying ‘no’ to a child who wants to take part in every activity can benefit their health but also teach them the lifelong lesson of the importance of balance in their approach to activity and rest.