I have a useful and important pedcast for you today. After you practice pediatrics for 33 years, you learn a lot of things and one of the things I have learned is that a child’s physical symptoms have a message. I believe that a child’s symptoms are his or her body’s way of telling the child something. I know that may sound strange but after you listen to today’s pedcast, hopefully you will understand what I mean and why this concept is so important to your child’s health today and for their long term well being.
The Importance of Listening
If you have my job, you listen to a lot of descriptions of physical symptoms, whether those symptoms are pain, or shortness of breath, or sleep problems… or really anything else. I listen attentively to these descriptions and try and make physiological sense of them. Traditionally, doctors gather information from two sources, history (what the patient tells you) and the physical (what you see on examining the patient).
After the history and physical part of a visit, a conclusion is reached about a child’s symptoms. Such as, you have a viral illness, or you have a muscle strain, or you have headaches from muscle tension in your neck. But rather than simply figuring out what body structure is hurting, I think it is very useful for the child and the family for that matter, to step back and ask themselves, “Why do I have this symptom and what is my body trying to tell me with this symptom?” We really need to take it a step further to really help the child learn to listen to what their body is telling them. I think this helps the child not only sort out this illness but they learn how to approach future symptoms. Many times, if the question is framed like this, the child can answer the question themselves… which is great. By doing so, they are learning a great life skill that many adults don’t have. The child will grow up learning to listen to what their body is telling them and how these symptoms are really your body’s way of trying to protect the child’s health. I am a firm believer that our bodies are always in the self- protection mode. We just have to listen.
Child with headaches… probably either a sleep problem leading to fatigue, stress reaction to life, or they are sick. When I frame the question this way with an older child, they usually know why they have headaches. They will say things like, yeah, I ‘m not getting enough sleep because I am worried about this or that. Or, I think I am tired because I am sick.
Or a child who has a sore elbow… this is almost always from overuse, things like tennis elbow or little league elbow. When I ask what should they do to get better and when should they start playing again, they already know the answer… stop the activity until the pain is gone and then try and avoid overuse. You see why this line of thinking is so powerful? We are teaching the child to both analyze their own problem and find solutions.
Or how about a child with recurrent abdominal pain and cramps? Most of the time this symptom comes from either a poor diet, not pooping enough and not drinking enough water, maldigestion of some food, or a stress reaction. Once the child understands the why of the symptom they usually know what their body is telling them and how to fix it. Eureka, we are creating a self sufficient adult! How great is that!
Finally, I think this type of reasoning is particularly powerful for parents and children since inevitably the question at the end of a most visits is something like– Can Johnny or Janie play in the tournament this weekend, or can they go camping next week? I fall back on what is your body telling you and what do you think your body wants you to do? Amazingly, they usually already know the answer. So, try this with your child’s physical symptoms in the near future and I think you will find this line of reasoning very useful. At least I hope so.
This is Doc Smo, thanking you for tuning into my blog. Take a minute to write a comment if you have some insight or experience with this issue. Also, please subscribe to my blog on my website or on iTunes to get notice of my latest content. My subscribers are some of the best informed parents out there. Go ahead and join the informed parent crowd. AND, I also want to remind you that my first book, Can Doesn’t Mean Should, is available in eBook form and hard copy in many bookstores, March 2015. Download or pickup a copy. I am sure you will be glad you did. This is Dr. Paul Smolen, hoping that the next time your child’s body talks, you and your child will listen without a balk.