Of course parents help children BE healthy. We love them, feed them, and keep them safe. We give them a sense of right and wrong. We try to influence their choices. Most of all we love them. I believe that parents play a crucial role in helping children FEEL healthy, too.
So what does that mean, anyway? A little anecdote might help you understand what I am talking about. At my daughters' daycare the kids used to have a saying for their little cuts and scrapes that happened throughout the day. A skinned knee that didn't bleed was just an "owie", really no big deal. But a skinned knee that BLED was a "blood owie", which was very impressive to all.
I would receive tales of "blood owies" when the kids arrived home each summer day. It was a major event, as if the life force of the affected child was draining onto the ground. This kind of owie seemed to have a mystical power in my daughters' lives. Rose, our daycare provider, and my dear friend, normalized these "blood owies" for my children. She always had a hug and a band-aid ready, and she seemed to always convey to them that this was no problem, and would get better fast with that band-aid. I would look at the ravaged knee with the princess band-aid perched on top, hide a shudder and smile big at how great the owie looked now. My injured daughter would walk away feeling strong and proud of herself.
Of course most illnesses are more serious than a skinned knee! But how great would it be if we, as parents, could help our children be confident in knowing that most aches, pains, colds, flu, viruses, rashes, bug bites, etc. are common and happen to lots of people who get over them with no problem.
Preschoolers and adolescents, especially, seem to notice lots of bumps and aches all over their bodies. Don't you, too? Our children need us to explain these things to them. They don't know if these things are important, or not. "Too bad your tummy hurts, maybe you have to go potty?", or "I'm sorry to hear you have a stomachache, do you think you had too much milk? Or that you are worried about your exam?" "That happens to me sometimes, it usually just goes away after a while." "Let's try some pain reliever, and go to bed early tonight, maybe you're just tired."
But what if you miss something this way? Aren't some stomachaches and other symptoms important? Yes they are sometimes important, I'm not advocating ignoring symptoms. What I am saying is that I think the parent should be the one guiding the attitude about the illness.
The ultimate message that I want kids to receive is that their bodies and minds are amazing, strong, resilient, normal, and capable of healing. And that their parents will help them stay that way. As a pediatrician I definitely have a role in shaping this attitude, but I think parental influence is greater. Think about this. Let me know what you think.
This page is actually one of the first blog posts I published. It was entitled "Blood owies, or What do I want for my patients?"