Zero in on Your Child's Health Needs

You're crammed into the car for a family vacation, and your kids are getting antsy. Red-haired Mandy keeps saying, "I'm hot!" and "I'm hungry. When do we eat?" She is trying to get the others to play car games, which she usually wins. Thin, wiry Jenna is talking a mile a minute, wound up from the travel and anxious to get there. John, who is prone to gaining weight, congenially listens to his sisters and then drifts off to sleep.

As every mother knows, no two children are alike. Just as one child may have blond hair and another dark, psychological and physical needs can also vary widely from child to child.

The health and creativity of the child is based on how much good feeling, how much emotional, physiological, and psychological nourishment he or she receives from the parents. And once you understand your child's mind-body type — his or her basic makeup — you know how to help.

Know Your Child

The three main ayurvedic mind-body types are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Of the three children, Mandy is a typical Pitta type, with her red hair and fair skin. The fire in her personality is expressed as anger when she's stressed and affection when she's feeling balanced.

For this type of child, it's better not to make promises but just to surprise her or present things when they are in place, for she will become emotionally distraught when disappointed. A Pitta child should avoid hot, spicy foods such as hot peppers, and should eat more cooling foods such as sweet lassi, sweet, juicy fruits, and cooked vegetables. Mandy is not the sort of child who can handle it well if a meal is delayed — she should have snacks on hand if the meal is going to be late. Even though Mandy may enjoy competitive sports, she should avoid getting overheated, and should stay out of the sun.

Jenna is a typical Vata type — quick to learn, always moving, and prone to anxiety and insomnia. A Vata-based child such as Jenna thrives on a daily oil massage and abundant hugs, as the sense of touch soothes Vata dosha. While a regular daily routine, with regular meals and early bedtime is important for all growing children, it is absolutely essential with a Vata child. Jenna's parents will want to take care not to feed her too many Vata-aggravating foods, such as dry cereals, raw vegetables, crackers, and cold foods and drinks.

As for John, he is probably an easier child to raise in some ways; as a classic Kapha type, he is more easygoing. However, it's important for parents not to overlook the needs of Kapha children just because they aren't as demanding. John's parents should get him involved in sports, as Kapha children thrive on vigorous exercise but may not seek it out unless prodded. Kapha children may be slower to learn in school, but can be excellent scholars if given time and patience. They have excellent long-term memories. John will feel healthiest if he avoids heavy, cold desserts such as ice cream and cheesecake, and in general should eat light, warm foods such as soups and cooked vegetables.

Of course, most children won't fall so neatly into these three categories. There are seven different combinations of these three basic types. A child might be Vata-Pitta, or Pitta-Kapha, or Vata-Kapha. Or he or she might be a combination of all three.

Foods to Grow On

All children should avoid junk food or canned, frozen or packaged foods, as these have less chetana or intelligence than fresh foods. An excess of such foods will give the child less intellectual power and may even create mental imbalances. Indeed, recent research shows that additives in junk foods, if eaten as a steady diet, can actually lower IQ.

Organic dairy products such as whole milk, panir (a fresh cheese made from milk), freshly-made yogurt and lassi are all ideal proteins for children, as are soaked almonds and walnuts. Spices such as turmeric, cumin and pepper help digestion, metabolism and brain nourishment, and should be introduced in small pinches if your child is not accustomed to them. Some spices are antioxidants, and black pepper helps enhance utilization of oxygen in the brain.

The Main Idea is Balance

All fathers and mothers should examine the quality and quantity of fat, protein, sugar, and air the children are ingesting. The brain needs these four major nutrients for mental clarity and integrated functioning.

Recommended fats include ghee and olive oil, and recommended sugar includes organic raw sugar, Sucanat, honey, rock sugar, and jaggary. Even if it's of good quality, it's important not to let the child eat too much fat or sugar. Just as an example, the average American consumes 125 pounds of sugar a year, when just a hundred years ago the average was two pounds.

Most children need to eat more freshly-cooked, organic green vegetables and sweet, juicy fruits. Many children resist eating them, but if reminded, and fruits and vegetables are served in appetizing ways, they will do it.

The Power of Behavioral Models

Behavior also plays an important role in children's health. Because children are in the Kapha, or growing, stage of life, it's especially important that they see only nurturing television shows and movies. Watching violent entertainment or spending time with friends who are often angry or jealous can create ama, or impurities, in the mental channels. This results in a decrease in mental acuity and creativity.

The three functions of the mind — learning, retaining, and recalling knowledge — are known as dhi, dhriti, and smriti in Maharishi Ayurveda. Because children are in the time of life when acquiring knowledge is so important, these three functions need to be working in a coordinated fashion in order for learning to take place. If the daily routine or diet is not healthy, or if the child is eating a lot of junk foods, or constantly in an environment that is not nurturing and positive, these functions will be impaired, and the child will start to feel frustrated, irritable and less creative.

The area of behavior is so important that it is even said to be a Rasayana, or elixir that helps structure longevity. Called Behavioral Rasayanas (achara rasayanas), these principles are especially important in teaching children the behaviors that will bring health and happiness throughout life. A person who practices achara rasayanas is "calm, free of anger, truthful, sweet-spoken, clean, simple, positive, devoted to spiritual practices such as meditation, unconceited, charitable, chooses friends wisely, maintains a balanced daily routine, and shows respect for teachers, preceptors and elders."

Of course, the best way to teach your children these behaviors is to display them yourself. "I learned early on that if I spoke sharply to Michael, he would speak sharply to me," says one mother. "Since then I have cultivated a respectful, calm way of relating to my children, and they in turn have learned to treat others with respect."

Just for Kids

Children can also take herbal food supplements to boost their health. Maharishi Ayurveda has developed a number of formulas that are just for kids. At age four or five, start your child on Intelligence Plus.This will increase mental clarity, boost resistance to stress, and balance the emotions. Children can also take 1/4 of their parent's Amrit Ambrosia and Nectar Tablets morning and evening. The Amrit tablets help reduce the effects of toxins from the environment by scavenging free radicals, and contain natural sources of nutrients such as Vitamin C. Older children take half the adult recommendation for Ambrosia and Nectar.

It's also important for the parents to give their children a massage every day or at least every other day. This will help boost their natural immunity, help them get better sleep, and gives the parents a wonderful opportunity to express affection and love. For children, you can use a blend of 20% Youthful Skin Massage Oil and 80% Moisturizing Massage Oil.

The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.