I spent a good chunk of the first 5-6 years after my son’s birth with his pediatrician. Colds, coughs, rashes, upset stomachs, fevers, injuries from falls, nose bleeds, diarrhea, vomiting. Everything except a broken bone. And this wasn’t just my story. Every first time parent I knew had a few rough early years in their journey. Initially, I would fall sick with my kid too. Eventually, my immunity built to a point where I managed to survive the 100th round of fever/cold/cough.
It would’ve been easier to find the horn of a unicorn before I met a child who was robustly healthy. I don’t think these children exist! Every seasonal change meant children staying at home from school from the latest round of whatever. There were many grandma-passed-down-tips and home remedies, but nothing worked in the long term. Eventually, my kid grew up and out of all the minor childhood illnesses. And meanwhile, I drowned under a collection of alternative and regular medical articles.
What I would have paid good money for, as a young first time mother, was some sort of a guide which could have helped me understand the fundamentals of building a healthy immune system in early childhood, without stressing me out about the things I couldn’t control, like the weather or germ ridden playgrounds, for instance.
Pay attention to these, and you’re set (for the most part).
Possibly the most important predictor of good health. A well rested child is calm, has a strong appetite and is energetic. Corollary being- a chronically sleep deprived child is irritable, listless and high needs. Early childhood sleep issues are highly correlated with cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical aspects of a developing child. The Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is secreted during sleep, the lack of which causes a myriad of health issues in children ranging from impact on metabolism to healthy bone mass and muscle development. Younger children need 10-12 hours of restful sleep, more so during adolescence. Sleep has become even more fragile for the digital natives- generation Z- born into a visually stimulating and information saturated reality. So,the first step to a good nights sleep for the digital age is to ensure that all light emitting gadgets- mobile phones, computers, t.v.- are turned off an hour or more before bedtime as the blue light is known to be a sleep disrupter.
Much has been said about healthy food and junk food. So, I will not get into the debate in this article, although I’ll add that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if your kid ends up eating junk every once in a while, but let that not be the only thing s/he eats, you know? Cooking has never been easier considering all the gadgets-fancy or not that make our lives simpler. To top it, the internet has made it possible to find recipes for all kinds of food accommodations and all sorts of cuisines. Although I must warn all new parents to cautiously venture, if at all, into radical food movements like the raw food movement or gluten-free (unless your kid has celiac disease). Stick to what you ate as a kid if you were healthy. If not, here is a starting point to dip your toe into child nutrition. I won’t be getting into a breastfeeding vs formula feeding debate here, but will encourage you to read as much as you can on both sides of the issue and make up your own minds about it. And remember, don’t feel guilty for making a choice that is best for your baby and you.
Basically, fresh air and exercise. Amongst the enormous mental health benefits of exercise, it also boosts HgH, which as mentioned above, is related to all aspects of your child’s physical development i.e. Bone health (including height or stature), metabolism (including ideal weight) and appropriate sexual development-for-age.
No living thing can thrive under long term stress. No plant, no animal and no human. That being said, most living things are resilient and a little bit of stress will not do permanent damage. What needs to be addressed is a chronic high stress situation. It could be a situation entirely unrelated to the child like a terminally ill family member or sibling. Or being raised in a poor neighborhood. These are circumstances not within the control of the parent/guardian.
What we can control as parents is providing a loving, secure, atmosphere for our children. Where they feel safe to express themselves without fear and in knowledge that their caregivers/parents/guardians are always on their side.
Give it time. I wish I’d known this back then. Developing a strong immune system requires time as most infants are brought into this world from a sterile in-utero environment It can take a good number of years to build the invisible shield, so to speak, for common viruses. Although vaccinations have decreased infant and child deaths from life the once-fatal diseases like polio, small pox, TB, whooping cough; children are still susceptible to the usual waves of viruses and bacterial infections going around schools and parks. So, take a deep breath and know that eventually, most kids develop resistance to the viruses and bacteria in their environment. Trust their bodies.
Know better, do better:
Contributed by : Vaishali Sharma, Founder, The Champa Tree.
Edited by: Preeti