In sickness and in health - such is the commitment to care, nurturing and to love that each parent makes towards a child. The health part is manageable, but when sickness strikes it can get scary. Yet this is when Nature's power can shine brightest of all.
Natural healing views the doctor's and the parent's role in caring for a sick child as that of a helper. It sees illness - from vomiting to measles to a simple cold - as a manifestation of the body's attempt to eliminate whatever does not belong to it, and by doing so restore order and balance. It also recognizes that the only true healing can come from within. And it identifies the helper's role as that of supporting the body of the sick child in what it is attempting to do - to banish the microbe, remove the poison from his system, readjust hormonal balance or whatever else happens to be necessary to restore equilibrium.
When I was young, I was lucky to become good friends with a handful of inspired doctors who not only understood the theory behind natural healing, but some of whom had been practicing it for as much as half a century. The techniques they taught me - from using a compress to quell a fever or calm vomiting, to methods of hydrotherapy for treating earache and athletic injuries - have served me well not only in helping all four of my children to heal themselves, but in helping myself and many others too. Each of these techniques, in its own way, supports the body's own wisdom in healing and/or helps the sick child feel more relaxed and comfortable while healing takes place.
beware of antibiotics
Antibiotics are great for life-threatening diseases. To employ them for anything less can be a big mistake. Thanks to their overuse by doctors in the past 30 years, malevolent microbes which they were designed to kill have fought back valiantly by developing strains of resistant super bugs. As a result, what once were easily treated bacterial ailments now often do not respond to drugs. Antibiotics are also completely useless in the treatment of viral conditions such as colds, even though some doctors still prescribe them. When they do work on bacterial conditions they not only kill the bacteria they have been designed to kill, they also wipe out a lot of the `good guys' too - helpful bacteria which are part of a child's intestinal flora, on which the continued competence of his immune system depends. I, like the doctors from whom I have learned about natural healing, do not give them to my children. The only way I would ever consider using antibiotics would be in case of a disease which was literally life-threatening and even then I would only do it after consulting a handful of doctors in whose judgment I trust, one of whom would be my second son, Jesse, who is himself a doctor. If for any reason your child has to be treated with antibiotics, it is wise for up to six weeks afterwards to give him supplements of enteric bacteria including acidophilus to help recolonize the good intestinal flora they will have destroyed.
the healing power of fever
Illness is his body's attempt to reestablish balance and harmony both energetically and biochemically. When it strikes, whether it be cold or sore throat, or childhood disease such as chickenpox or German measles, the parent of a Nature's child is most concerned with how to work together with the child's own natural processes of healing: First, to help speed recovery without causing long term health risks, and second, to help the child be as comfortable and pain free as possible while healing is taking place. Let's look at fever first since that is the thing most parents are most frightened of.
Fever is not something which needs, as most parents these days believe, to be suppressed the moment it appears using aspirin or other drugs - for fear it will damage the child. Far from it. Fever is a sign that your child's body is trying to burn off something which is not supposed to be there - a virus for instance, a bacteria, or some element in his food or his environment to which his body takes exception. When an infection develops, your child responds by manufacturing new white blood cells called leukocytes, whose purpose is the destruction of viruses and bacteria and the elimination of wastes and other damaging materials from his body. Then white blood cells become very active in his body - dashing to the site of infection to fight the `baddies'. In the process - which is known as leukotaxis - certain chemicals called pyrogens are released, designed to raise body temperature and make the cleansing more efficient. So important a part does this rise in temperature - fever - play in the process of healing, that artificially created fevers have been used throughout history as a way of treating illness in people who do not have the vitality to produce high enough fevers in themselves. Luckily, kids do. One of the reasons children develop such high fevers when they are ill is that their bodies are enormously vital. That is also why a child can get very sick suddenly, as well as why the sickness will frequently clear just as rapidly. Governed from within, the natural process of healing in a vital young body is intense and highly efficient. As we get older, our bodies lose that efficiency so we heal less rapidly and less effectively.
We are taught that 98.6 F is the normal temperature. Yet temperatures vary from person to person. They also depend on how the temperature has been taken - for instance by mouth, under the arm, or rectally. Generally speaking the best - and safest - way of taking a young child's temperature is axillary - by tucking the thermometer in the fold beneath his armpit and leaving it there for five minutes. It is far safer than trying to do it rectally and risk damaging the child, or putting a thermometer into his mouth where he might crunch on it and break it. Not all fevers are dangerous, nor is the degree of your child's temperature much measure of how sick he is. Unless there are other symptoms such as great listlessness, difficulty in breathing, severe pain or some other sign which could indicate the presence of a serious illness such as meningitis or diphtheria, doctors who use natural methods of treating illness will wisely tell you that you should keep an eye on the fever but leave well enough alone.
hot for what?
There are lots of reasons why your child may develop a fever - overexposure to heat as a result of being too bundled up (particularly in babies), a reaction to food or some poisonous substance, too much sun, a long journey, changes in the weather, a tooth breaking through, over-excitement. If you suspect that he has swallowed some poisonous substance, you need to seek medical help immediately. And in newborn babies, it is important to pay more attention to fever and get a doctor's advice since there is always the chance of an infection having developed as a result of fetal monitoring during birth, or forced obstetric procedures, such as the overmedication of women in labor. Most fevers, however, occur as a result of viral or bacterial infection and are part of the body's own immune response to invasion which, left alone, the body will clear. When your child is running a temperature it is important to make sure he is not dehydrated since the perspiration, runny nose, vomiting and diarrhea which often accompany fever can deplete his body of fluid. This is easy to do by giving plenty of cool water and pure fruit juice - not the so-called fruit drinks which contain sugar and other additives.
brain damage and other fears
Ninety five percent of childhood fevers never reach 105F, which to many parents represents the so-called danger level. In fact, a fever of 105F which in an adult is extremely high can be quite normal in a child who is fighting off infection. The greatest fear most parents have of fever is that it will cause convulsions. In truth, it is not the size of a fever which is indicative of the likelihood of convulsion but the rapidity with which it rises. If you have ever seen a child in a convulsive seizure it can be a very frightening thing to witness. I have lived through a number - strangely enough, not with my own children, but with other people's. In the midst of watching a child in the throws of convulsion, it is hard to remember that this kind of seizure is uncommon, and that even when it does occur it seldom results in any serious side effects. For instance, in one large study involving 1706 children who had experienced febrile convulsions, not one of them suffered death or motor defects.
My doctor friends have always taught me to work with fever, to allow it to burn through while making sure it does not get high enough to cause seizures. This practice was first introduced to me by my grandmother who looked after me when I was sick as a child. She kept my fevers within `safe' range by sponging my body every hour or so with cool water. In the beginning when I had a sick child I would ring one of my doctor friends, worried by my child's temperature and his crying and say, `My son is ill, should I bring him to see you?' After asking me a few questions such as, `How high is his temperature? When did it start? Is he eating?' and so forth, the doctor would advise me to keep an eye on him, give him plenty of fluids and use a compress around his middle to keep the fever under control. So that was what I did. And it has worked beautifully.
the abdominal compress
This is one of the most effective techniques for helping to eliminate wastes from the body and to keep fever under control while it carries out its job of cleansing. Applying cold water around the middle of the body in the form of a compress charges the local cells with energy, activates circulation and stimulates the liver - the body's organ of detoxification - so that stored wastes can be released more efficiently. Here's how:
Tear a piece of old cotton cloth wide enough to reach from under your child's arms down to his hips and long enough to wrap around him once comfortably. An old cotton sheet or pillowcase (not nylon or cotton and polyester) is ideal. Dip the cloth into cold water and wring it out. Then wrap it around the child's middle and secure with safety pins. Wrap a thick dry towel around this and put him into a warm bed. You may want to put a pair of thick socks on him, too. It is important that he doesn't feel cold. Keep it on him for half an hour. If he drops off to sleep for the night you can remove the compress in the morning. Repeat several times a day as needed depending upon the level of his temperature.
don't insist your child eats
When animals are ill they stop eating. So do children. This is a natural part of their body's attempt to heal itself. It is also a source of great concern to parents. It shouldn't be - especially during an acute illness. Your child's body knows that its energies should be directed towards clearing itself of viruses, bacteria, or what have you, which lie at the core of his illness. To put unwanted food into a body in such circumstances is not only unhelpful, it can actually undermine the healing process by making your child's body turn its attention away from the elimination processes to having to deal with digestion and assimilation - both of which take a lot of energy. Instead, offer him plenty of water and fruit or carrot juices - preferably made fresh with a juice extractor - and keep him in bed until he gets better. Freshly made juices require almost no energy to be assimilated yet they carry a high degree of structural information for health and healing, including many of the most important vitamins and minerals such as beta carotene, which helps strengthen immunity, and vitamin C. Such juices also encourage the elimination of toxicity from the body. Your child can literally live on juices alone during any minor illness. Most kids love them.
I also believe in a lot of tender loving care when your child is sick. Massaging his feet with a little ordinary kitchen oil while he lies in bed well covered can be a wonderful way of giving it. You don't need to know how. There isn't any right way, it is just a matter of intuitively letting your hands follow where they want to go. It is enormously soothing, and helps draw the negative energy in his body down towards the feet to be eliminated from his body. It also helps reassure him that you are there and love him, in a way that words can never do.
Hydrotherapy can help too. Particularly if he has an earache - a condition which is agonizing yet rarely dangerous. This technique was taught me by one of the doctors I admire most in the world, Gordon Latto, who has looked after my family - mostly by phone - for almost thirty years. I have used it again and again - for earache in kids, for conjunctivitis myself, for headaches and for childhood and adult athletic injuries to ankles and legs and feet. It, too, works on the principle of drawing energy downwards in the body. In doing so, it not only relieves pain, but also congestion. Finally it increases circulation to the leg and feet area, speeding any healing that is needed there, say, from a turned ankle at football practice. Here's how:
Take two buckets large enough to put the child's feet in and deep enough to submerge his legs up to the knee. Fill the first with water as hot as he can take. Fill the second with cold water. Let him plunge his calves and feet into the hot water and stay there for 3 minutes. Then get him to take them out and put them into the cold water for 30 seconds, then back immediately into the hot again (you might have to top up with more hot before you do since it does tend to cool down during the procedure). Do this until you have repeated both hot and cold three times, ending with cold. While this is going on, it is important he is kept warm. Make sure he is in a warm room and that his body is well clothed, so that on no account is he allowed to get chilled. Immediately afterward, put warm socks on his feet and pop him into bed. Repeat this procedure three times a day - or even more often when there is pain.
care for colds and coughs
In the tradition of natural medicine, a cold is considered the body's most common way of eliminating waste from the system rapidly. In addition to offering a child fresh raw fruit juices I have always given extra supplements of vitamin C and beta carotene - the precursor to Vitamin A - which comes in good quantity in carrots and green vegetables. Both are natural anti-viral agents. I like to give children these nutrients in supplement form (but in much smaller quantities) when they are healthy too, as a way of helping to support their immune system so they become resistant to disease. One of the most important things I have learned from some of my doctor friends has been that at the first sign of a sniffle you cut out any and all dairy products from a child's diet - milk, yogurt, cream, butter, cheese, and any other food which might even have the tiniest bit of any of these things in it. This helps speed recovery and stops even more mucous from forming.
Aromatherapy can help with colds too. If you have a little aromatherapy burner - the kind you put water into the top of then light a candle underneath - you can add a few drops of tea tree oil to the water and let its molecules fill the room to help ease a child's breathing. Sage is another essential oil good for this. Both have anti-microbial properties. If you don't have a burner, try heating a saucepan on the stove. When it is steaming drop five or six drops of the essential oil into the water. (Be sure to keep it well out of harm's way in the room your child is in and never leave it unattended with a young child.) You can also fill a basin with hot water, drop some essential oil into it and let the child put his head, covered loosely by a towel, over the steam for five minutes several times a day to clear his head.
Manuka Honey with a little lemon juice is excellent for sore throats. This honey, from New Zealand, is unique in the world. It has been shown to destroy many strains of bacteria including staphylococcus, streptococcus, staphaureus - even heliobacter pylori, the bacteria associated with peptic ulcers. Mix it with a little fresh lemon juice and give it on a teaspoon as a soothing linctus.
choose supplements carefully
When choosing a multiple vitamin or mineral supplement for your child, be careful. His body has a natural affinity for vitamins and minerals as they occur in Nature and are found in wholesome fresh unprocessed foods, not for the synthetic form. Not all vitamins and minerals are the same. The human body cannot easily absorb most of the synthetic, chemical vitamins on the market. And regardless of what the labels say about being `natural', the truth is almost every vitamin you can buy these days is synthetic, and therefore not very bio-available. This means your body or your child's body can absorb very little of them, because the chemical form of vitamins is so different from the natural form you find in good wholesome food.
`Food-state' vitamins are different. They are grown instead of being chemically made, using a unique bio-tech process which allows living plant cells to take up vitamin concentrates and transform them into a form the human body can easily assimilate and use. This means you don't have to go for megadoses to get real benefits. Food-state nutrients are particularly good for children. They are the only kind I give mine. I began with a liquid multi vitamin and mineral when they were babies (plus some extra vitamin C) and then gradually increased the amounts as they grew.
At 12 for instance, I gave Aaron two 250 milligram tablets of food-state vitamin C a day with his breakfast along with a food-state multiple vitamin and mineral. During the winter months, I also give him one or two 4.5 milligram tablets of beta carotene a day. So protective an influence can vitamin A exert, and so supporting is it to a child's immune system, that a recent study published in the British Medical Journal states that vitamin A may also play an important role in those with life threatening infections. While on the subject of protection, I would never let my children drink fluoridated water. There is too much evidence that, while it does help protect against dental carries, it has also been implicated in the development of degenerative conditions later in life. I believe it is far better to have a child's teeth painted with fluoride once every 6 months at the dentist if you want, or to give him fluoride toothpaste to use. Then at least it doesn't pervade his whole system.
herbs and homeopathy
I use only a few herbs. I find that red sage, for instance, over which you have poured boiling water and allowed to steep for ten minutes then let cool for later use, makes an excellent gargle for an older child (or adult) with any kind of head or throat or chest infection. Mint tea sweetened with a little honey can do wonders for upset tummies and flatulence. So can the American Indian herb slippery elm, which you mix with a little warm water and add some honey to (preferably Manuka). With older children in bed with any kind of head or throat or chest infection, I also ask them to place a small clove of garlic - complete with its skin coating - between the cheek and the teeth inside their mouth and to keep it there for an hour morning and night. (Not possible if they are up and about or too young since they might choke.) Garlic kills the `nasties' quickly and efficiently.
I use only a little homeopathy, it is all I find I need. I use Arnica 30 for instance. It is good for shock, or any kind of injury or emotional upset. I give two tablets immediately and then two every half hour until the crisis has passed. The second remedy I like is Aconite 30, which I give every three or four hours when there is fever to help in the cleansing process that is taking place.
Long ago I put together what in the family is known as `Mummy's First Aid Kit'. There you will find vitamin C, some zinc and beta carotene, herbs and homeopathics, plus a compress or two torn from an old sheet, a couple of unipolar magnets and crepe bandages for helping to heal bruises and sprains. It goes everywhere with us throughout the world and has become so popular as a result of being used by children and adults outside the family that I have been forced to put together several for other people as well. Of course, it won't fix broken legs. And if my child's fever suddenly shot up to 106 in the space of an hour or there was any emergency I felt incapable of handling I would be on the phone in a minute for help from the doctor.
But for over thirty years, this little collection of things - together with some hydrotherapy, a good dollop of patience, great respect for Nature's ways and a lot of tender loving care - has been all that was required to see my kids through everything that has ailed them. All I can ever hope to be is a helper. It is Nature that does the real work.