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God's Design for the Highly Healthy Child
By Walt Larimore Stephen Sorenson Amanda Sorenson
ZondervanCopyright © 2004 Walt Larimore
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat Is a Highly Healthy Child?
Eight-year-old Daryl was an impressive young boy. I don't think I've ever met a person with a more positive mind-set. His attitude was always upbeat, his laugh infectious. I wish you could have seen his smile. It could light up even the darkest room. Daryl was loved by his family and had a deep faith in God. In short, he was incredibly healthy emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. He was more highly healthy than most of my patients, and more healthy than most people I had met.
Daryl's overall health was all the more impressive because of where I met him. He was visiting "Give Kids the World," a special village near Disney World where dying children and their families can escape the world of hospitals and medical treatments and enjoy a week of being lavished with hugs, smiles, and entertainment from their favorite Disney characters. Although Daryl was as bald as a cucumber and skin and bones from end-stage cancer, he was living life to the fullest. He greatly expanded my understanding of health. He demonstrated what it means to be healthy-not just disease and symptom free, but whole in the most important ways.
WHAT IS HEALTH?
Because I was trained inconventional medicine, I initially emphasized the physical side of health, especially the treatment of trauma and disease. If my patients were free from injury and disease, I considered them to be healthy. But the longer I practiced medicine and the more I encountered individuals like Daryl, the more I realized there's more to being highly healthy than having a physically functioning body. All the evidence suggests that true health involves our entire beings, with all elements-physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual-functioning as God designed them to function if we are to be truly healthy.
Dose of Wisdom
When the physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions of well-being are singing in harmony, you're healthy. That doesn't mean there is no room for a dissonant chord, but that the music of life is pleasant to the ear.
Nick Zervanos, M.D., family physician
The well-being of highly healthy children depends on their inner life as well as their physical health. God wants to nourish and promote a healthy emotional, relational, and spiritual life because without it, our children simply will be less healthy than God designed them to be (Proverbs 17:22; Matthew 5:3-12; 6:33; 16:26; Luke 6:20-26; and 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 are just a few Bible passages that support this statement).
Let's turn now to explore what I call the "four wheels of health" and discover why each is so important in helping children achieve the highest possible degree of health.
UNDERSTANDING THE FOUR WHEELS OF HEALTH
In order to understand how to nurture our children's health, we need to understand a concept taught to me by Harold, who lived in a small cabin on a hill above the Nantahala River near Bryson City, North Carolina. Harold's true joy in life was refurbishing Model T Fords. To him, they were works of art. When I expressed an interest in learning more about these old cars, Harold invited me to his shop, where I gained a greater appreciation for his hobby.
Harold labored over body repairs and reupholstering seats, but he specialized in repairing wheels. He showed me how a weakness in just one or two spokes could cause a multispoked wheel to collapse and, potentially, cause a wreck. He explained that if a driver wanted a long, smooth ride, the wheels needed to be as perfectly balanced as possible. An imbalance in even one wheel could put a strain on the engine, chassis, and other wheels. In short, it could goof up the whole car.
I began to think about the components of health in the way Harold viewed the components of a sturdy wheel: four wheels attached to a stable car (the four health "wheels" of a highly healthy person), with all wheels in balance (all aspects of a highly healthy child developed in balance). The four "wheels" of highly healthy children are
physical health-the well-being of a child's body;
emotional health-the well-being of a child's mental faculties and connection with his or her emotions;
relational health-the well-being of a child's associations with parents, family members, friends, and community; and
spiritual health-the well-being of a child's relationship with God
These four components of health were critical in the life of Jesus, even during childhood. According to the Bible, Jesus "grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." In other words, he grew mentally/emotionally, physically, spiritually, and relationally.
Parents who want to raise highly healthy children will work hard to keep the wheels of their health and those of their children in balance. So let's consider the effect of each of the four wheels of health and explore the essential principles you can begin implementing to raise a highly healthy child.
The Physical Wheel
The simplest definition of maximum physical health is that the child's body-all its chemicals, parts, and systems-is working as closely as possible to the way God designed it. In order for a child to be physically healthy, disease must be prevented whenever possible and treated as early as possible. When illness or disorder occurs, physical health involves learning to cope and adapt as needed. With good emotional, relational, and spiritual health, a child whose body lacks optimum physical "wholeness" can still be highly healthy.
Allow me to share a personal illustration. Our oldest child, Kate, was born with cerebral palsy. Most of her right brain and about one-half of her left brain died and dissolved while she was in the womb. Kate's brain damage was such that it was as though she had had a stroke before she was born-resulting in the left side of her body being weaker and more spastic than the right side (although the right side, too, was affected). The brain damage dramatically slowed her physical development. By the time she was a teenager, she had had many operations to straighten her limbs and eyes. She had worn braces and splints, casts and eye patches, and for a time she was in a wheelchair. At the age of twelve, she developed a severe seizure disorder. She spent time in an intensive care unit on a ventilator and nearly died.
Although Kate made it through many medical obstacles, she is still not "normal" physically. She has significant disabilities, and her condition is incurable. Nevertheless, she has learned to cope and adapt. Although she doesn't eat as well as she might and could exercise a bit more, for the most part she cares for herself physically. Kate is up-to-date on her immunizations. She takes her medications, makes her doctor appointments, and does her own self-care. Her mom and I consider her physical wheel to be fairly healthy-not because her health is perfect but because it is reasonably balanced.
Given her physical challenges, it would be easy for Kate to become unhealthy. I've known patients with similar disabilities who were very unhealthy emotionally, relationally, or spiritually. They were miserable people. They became obese, and their physical health was terrible. So Kate's physical health cannot be taken for granted. It takes a concerted effort on her part to maintain her physical wheel, and her physical health is strongly dependent on the constant work she does to keep her emotional, relational, and spiritual wheels in balance. If these three wheels were flattened, weak, or unbalanced, Kate couldn't be nearly as healthy as she is physically.
The Emotional Wheel
Great emotional health is not the absence of emotional distress. Emotional health involves learning to cope with and then embrace the full spectrum of human emotions-positive and negative-we all face in life. Emotional health in children is greatly enhanced by the love, security, and well-defined boundaries of the parent-child relationship. On the foundation of our love, we parents must teach our children how to appropriately recognize and express the full range of human emotions. Four-year-old Samuel, the child of a friend, surprised me with the level of emotional health he demonstrated one day in our home.
Samuel's little sister crawled over to where he was playing with a train set. She sat up and reached over to take one of the cars.
"Rachel, I wish you wouldn't do that." He glared at her.
She looked him in the face, then grabbed one of the train cars and pulled it into her lap.
Excerpted from God's Design for the Highly Healthy Child by Walt Larimore Stephen Sorenson Amanda Sorenson Copyright © 2004 by Walt Larimore. Excerpted by permission.
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