I am currently at the end of nursing my two youngest children through a bout of Influenza. This year’s strain of influenza, the Influenza A H1N1 is spreading rapidly and bringing with it messages of fear even for the most positive thinking parents. When children are sick it is natural for them to be afraid. I have put a lot of thought into the messages that I want my children to hear about their bodies, illness and their body’s ability to heal itself. This carries over into the way I want them to view issues of weight as they enter their teen and adult years and is a long term way of giving them the tools they need to avoid falling into the trap of eating disorders either on the under-eating or over-eating end of that spectrum.
While they were sick I kept repeating the message to them “Your body is strong, it will heal itself” and “yes you have a fever, the fever is a sign your body is working to fight off the virus,” “throwing up is a way for your body to get rid of the germs in your stomach and is a good thing” and “coughing is a way for your body to get germs out so it’s important to not take anything to stop the coughing.”
I believe the body wants to be well and is a self-healing entity and when we are fighting off the inevitable viruses that attack our bodies as important as a strong immune system is a strong belief in the body’s desire for balance and wellness. These are the messages I want my children to hear while they are sipping water, lying on the couch watching cartoons and fighting off whatever bug has bit them.
I am very careful not to jump for the pill bottle for them or myself and even do not jump to the herbal or natural remedies too quickly either and when I do I describe them as support for the body rather than a cure.
And as important as what I say is what I do. My children watch me and know what I am putting into my body, they know if I’m fearful when I get sick. They worry about mommy when she’s not well and I repeat the same messages to them. And they are always true. I rarely get sick but when I do I get better quickly.
They see it happen and they know it to be true.
I apply this same approach in the matter of discipline.
I believe that children want to behave in ways that avoids hurting others, that they want to be kind and gentle and do the right thing for others. I’ve seen very natural and spontaneous acts of kindness from very small children and believe that they naturally want to follow that course. They are just in need of guidance as to how their actions affect others. I don’t believe being fearful of a parent is conducive to imparting that message which is why I avoid punitive discipline.
The messages I try to relay in all those situations are ones of emotion. “That made your friend very happy when you gave her that toy, you must be very proud of yourself,” or “you didn’t mean to hurt your friend, you seem very sorry,” and “I am very proud of you.” The last one I say a lot and is not dependent upon their behaviour. It is important that they know how I feel about them outside of their behaviour and I tell them how proud I am of them at random moments.
Another message that I try to impart to them regularly is that I am absolutely thrilled to be their mom. I tell them that I am the luckiest mom because they are my children and that being their mom is my greatest joy.
This message is the most important one because it counterbalances those very human moments when I am not the most patient mom, they know how I really feel so that when I apologise for being angry or disappointing them or for making very human mistakes they believe it because they have seen through my words and most of my actions that I mean it.
From the very beginning, from the moment we respond to their first cry, to that toddler moment when we return a snatched toy to impress upon them that others have needs as well as theirs, while consoling them during illness and while tucking them in on a regular old night, the messages we give our children, spoken as well as acted, are soaked sponge-like into their brains.
And because of this the messages we send through our words and actions are probably our number one tool in shaping the adults they become and increases the likelihood that they will become emotionally strong, healthy, capable and truly happy adults.