2004-10-01 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

By Dr. Nancy Gahles

DR. Nancy gahles
DR. Nancy gahles We all began this season with the best intention. It’s a new school year, it’s a new term, it’s a new season but…….what happened? The breakdown ensued. I always love to ask my children patients how they like school. Invariably they say “fine”. I say, “Why is it that every kid says it’s fine. Surely, everyone doesn’t love it.”

“The answer was just what I intuitively knew. “I really don’t like it. It’s boring.” Comments like these reveal to me the deep suppression of the children’s psyche. They say they are fine but this week I saw them in record numbers with runny nose, fatigue, and the ubiquitous cough. The harbinger of bad news. The system breakdown. I asked one child how this happened. How he went from surfing to debilitation and he said” I caught it from someone.” Well, isn’t that what we have been programmed to believe. That we are passive recipients of disease. I said, “How do you think that happened? You were fine last weekend?” He said, quite candidly, “I’m tired. I have so much homework. It’s not the learning of the information. That’s easy. It’s just that I have homework and everything is due the next day.” The cough punctuated the sentence. Stress depletes the immune system. Why is it that our children are so burdened? Will it make them better people if they are inundated with a workload that could kill a horse? Is more better? It seems to me that it is a major turn off to education and it makes learning something that is not fun. In my experience, if it’s not fun and nurturing and self-fulfilling, it is not productive.

When kids tell me that school is stressful and overwhelming, I label them “kids at risk”. It’s hard enough to negotiate the terms of life as a child without “overwhelming stress.” The stress is academic performance coupled with multiple extracurricular activities. Too much! I think that we have forgotten what is age, that is, developmentally appropriate for our children. Certainly, sitting in a kindergarten class all day is not. We didn’t have that. One child that I helped with homeopathy from autistic spectrum disorder to be mainstreamed developed nosebleeds from crying too much after a whole day of kindergarten. Too much, too soon. But, that is the culture that we are now living in. Excess. Too much of everything. And it is overwhelming. It’s overwhelming to be presented with the sensory stimulation, hence the sensory issues with learning disabilities. It’s overwhelming to be presented with the number of activities that we must accomplish. It’s overwhelming to be present for the amount of interpersonal relationships that we are expected to maintain. It’s overwhelming to be accountable for the amount of information that we are expected to be responsible for. It’s too much, usually too soon. Sensory and emotional overload leads to breakdown. Meltdown. Low performance. Low self- esteem. Loss of self- confidence. So, what is the point? Where are we headed? Surely , the Board of Education has no means to accommodate the latest onslaught of auditory and visual processing disorders. This new species of learning “disorders” that have emerged fall between the cracks of an archaic educational system ill equipped to diagnose or offer an effective treatment protocol.

So, I get the children who tell me their “symptoms” which is their story. The story of how they are trying and it’s really hard. The pressure is enormous. Is this what a childhood should be like? Believe me, there is plenty of time for that as an adult. If you do not come into adulthood equipped with a baseline of the ability to be light and carefree and fun loving…life will get hold of you and toss you around like Hurricane Jean. And the devastation will be palpable. Take a look at the amount of medication that is being prescribed to children . Why is there so much attention deficit and depression among our children? Take a look at the side effects of these medications.

As the school year enters it’s third week, the children are sick. This is a clarion call for change. It is not going to be possible to change the educational system but it is possible to change the family structure. Less is more. Keep a calm, stable home environment where relaxation and comfort abound. A soft place to fall. For everyone. Make time to be with the family as a unit and share experiences and feelings. Create a nurturing environment where nothing is expected of you. Just to be your own special self is good enough. Prepare the evening meal together and do homework while you are cooking. Turn on the evening news and discuss the election, political ideals, world events. Bond as people who enjoy each other’s company and opinions. The simple things in life are the most sustaining. Learning how to be a real person, like the lesson of the Velveteen Rabbit, comes from loving. And it takes a lifetime to become real. And it doesn’t come from a Harvard degree. It is time to take a long hard look at the quality of our lives. How much quality time are we spending with our children? What is the quality of our free time? Do we have any free time? If we did have free time, how would we spend it? I bet it wouldn’t look anything like the lives we choose now for ourselves or for our children. The quality or fabric of our lives is what will sustain us in the challenging times. It must be a cloth woven with strength born of accomplishments, goals set, challenges met, relationships made, regrets forgiven and dreams yet to be realized. Tomorrow is built upon the breath of today, a day well lived. You need time and space to live well. Slow and steady wins the race. We will all get there in the end. No one gets out of this alive. The prize is a life well lived. And satisfaction. Soul satisfaction.

May The Blessings Be!

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