The Metal Element

The Metal Element

This post is an introduction to some of the key themes related to the Metal Element.  Each child has all of the five Elements within him and therefore a discussion of the Metal Element is relevant for every child.  However, for some children it will be more relevant than for others.  We are all born with varying innate tendencies, and each child will have areas of life in which they excel and areas they find more challenging.  If having read this post, you feel that your child has an imbalance in their Metal Element, then the suggestions at the bottom will be especially relevant for them.    

Key themes related to the Metal Element

Skin; touch; breathing; loss; grief; acknowledgement; sense of self-worth; letting go; taking in the new

Factors that challenge the healthy development of the Metal Element

Your child may have an imbalance in their Metal Element without having experienced any of the factors described below. We are all born with an innate, constitutional imbalance in one of the Five Elements.

Loss

Chinese medical texts explain that loss and grieving consume the qi of the Metal Element.  Many people who have recently suffered a bereavement talk of how physically depleted they feel.  Physical tiredness can be a symptom of depleted qi in the Metal Element. 

Of course, loss is a part of life and no child will escape some kind of loss throughout his childhood.  A young child may appear to carry on with life after a bereavement as he always has done, yet he may still have been profoundly affected.  

Loss comes in many forms.  It may as a result of the death of a relative or a pet, which are widely acknowledged to cause sadness.  However, leaving behind a group of friends, a school or a community, dealing with the break-up of her family or an older sibling leaving home, for example, may also induce feelings of loss.  

At some point during the teenage years, most children will also have to face the loss of their previously unquestioning belief in their specialness.  A child may grow up with the dream of scoring a goal on the football pitch in front of their adoring fans but few will ever achieve this.  

The lack of a caregiver who is a symbol of authority

In order to develop a strong internal framework, which is necessary in order to be able to deal with the chaos of the outside world, a child needs a figure in her life who represents the arbiter of right and wrong.  Whilst a child’s fundamental needs are for love and security, she also needs teaching and guiding to be able to navigate the society that she happens to grow up in.  In Chinese medicine, having someone who provides this role in their life, will help to support the healthy development of the Metal Element. 

Lack of positive acknowledgement or too much criticism

For the Metal Element to develop strongly, a child needs to be supported in the process of connecting with her own internal sense of self-worth.  The Chinese character for Metal includes the image of ‘nuggets of gold’ that are buried deep within the ground.  These symbolise the part within all of us that feels of value.  In order for a child to grow up connected to these nuggets of gold, she needs parents and teachers who recognise her value and support her to recognise it herself. 

How might we recognise that the Metal Element in a child is struggling?

The child may struggle to manage their feelings of sadness and grief 

A child with an imbalance in her Metal Element may find it harder than most to manage emotions in the sadness family.  In health, a child will be able to feel sad when she has lost something or someone that was of value to her but not get ‘stuck’ in this emotion.  When the Metal Element is not strong, she may:

  • Have a demeanour of chronic sadness, as if she is carrying around a heavy burden
  • Wear a mask that says to the world she is ‘ok’ and struggle ever to connect with or reveal any sad feelings, even after a loss
  • Oscillate between the above two behaviours

The child may have a fragile sense of self

A child with an imbalance in her Metal Element may be ‘thin-skinned’.  She may feel that she has no ‘armour’ to protect herself.  Her response to this may be:

  • To withdraw and become a loner 
  • To put on a front of being somewhat arrogant or a ‘know it all’ as a cover for her deep vulnerability

The child may be extremely self-critical and constantly strive for perfection

A child with an imbalance in her Metal Element, and who is not connected with her ‘nuggets of gold’ may never feel that she, or what she does, is good enough.  Her response to this may be:

  • To be constantly striving yet never recognise her achievements
  • To give up, or not attempt something in the first place, because it is too frightening to risk failing
  • To be overly critical of others as a way of trying to make herself feel better

Some other signs that the Metal Element is struggling

  • The child is hyper-sensitive to everything in her environment, e.g noise, strong emotions in others, the cold, the texture of clothes, the taste and texture of foods…
  • Her complexion may have a noticeable white hue to it
  • She may catch more than her fair share of coughs and colds
  • She may resist physical exercise and become easily tired by it
  • She may be disconnected from her body and overly reliant on her intellect

How can we help the Metal Element in our children to develop strongly?

Support a child to deal with loss

This may involve allowing a child to express her sad feelings as opposed to telling her to ‘cheer up’ when she does not feel cheerful inside.  In younger children, art therapy can be useful.

Give the child meaningful acknowledgement and praise

Throw away comments or platitudes, such as telling a child we love the picture she has just drawn whilst we are barely looking at it, will not help the child to connect with her nuggets of gold.  It is usually best to save praise for when we really feel praise is due so that we deliver the praise authentically.  Asking a child how she feels about something she has done rather than always telling her what we think can also teach her how to rely on her internal sense of worth rather than always needing external validation

Give your child permission to be less than perfect

A good way of doing this is to model to a child the concept of ‘good enough’ in all that we do and to acknowledge to them when we have done something less than perfectly.  A child with an imbalance in his Metal Element may have a very strong ‘internal critic’.  It does not usually serve him well if parents and carers add their own criticisms of him or his behaviour on top of this.  

Provide the right quality and quantity of physical contact

Every child will have different needs in terms of physical touch but touch is especially important for the Metal Element.  At the same time, if the Metal Element in a child is imbalanced, the child may shun physical contact more than most.  This creates a dilemma for parents.  The aim should be to respond to the child’s cues in terms of when and what kind of physical contact he feels comfortable with, and to take every opportunity that is presented.   

For a more detailed discussion of the important of touch, please read ‘Is there more to a quick cuddle with our child than meets the eye?

Create an orderly environment in the home

The development of the Metal Element in a child will be supported by an stable and secure external environment.  A child whose Metal Element is struggling may even find it hard if there is too much untidiness or messiness.  Living in an ordered environment helps the child to feel ordered internally.  

Create opportunities for the child to be outside in the fresh air

The internal Organ related to the Metal Element is the Lungs.  In order to grow strong, the Lungs need to be ‘exercised’.  Allowing a child a run around outside inhaling clean air is a key ingredient for the health of the Metal Element.  

Summary

Factors that challenge the healthy development of the Metal Element

  • Loss
  • Lack of a caregiver who is a symbol of authority
  • Lack of positive acknowledgement or too much criticism

Signs the Metal Element in a child may be struggling

  • The child may struggle to manage their feelings of grief and sadness
  • The child may have a fragile sense of self
  • The child may be extremely self-critical and constantly strive for perfection

Support for the healthy development of the Metal Element may include:

  • Supporting a child to deal with loss
  • Giving a child meaningful acknowledgement or praise
  • Giving a child permission to be less than perfect
  • Providing the right quality and quantity of physical contact
  • Creating an orderly home environment
  • Create opportunities for the child to be outside in the fresh air

Rebecca Avern

I have been practising acupuncture for 15 years. As well as practising in Oxford, I am both a senior lecturer and clinical supervisor at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine (www.cicm.org.uk) which is the biggest acupuncture training centre in Europe. I have treated both adults and children and whilst the benefits of acupuncture for adults are well-known and well-documented, fewer people are aware of how it can benefit children. I decided that I wanted more children to experience the benefits of acupuncture, and so decided to set up The Panda Clinic. I have to admit to having another motivation - I love being around children and derive great satisfaction when I see children recover from ill health. I am mother to 2 primary school age children. As well as being an experienced acupuncturist, as a parent I have a good understanding of the stress and anxiety that an ill child can induce. I will always do my best to communicate with the parent(s) of a child I am treating as thoroughly and clearly as I can.