HOW TO RAISE A HEALTHY CHILD
( By Edited by A.P. Dewan )

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Growth

A child's growth is a development process, beginning at birth and continuing all the through adulthood. Within minutes of birth, the baby, if placed next to several bodies, can recognise his mother by the rhythm of heart-beat with which he had become familiar over a period of nine months. The new-born prefers to hear the voice of the mother to a stranger's. A few days after birth, the baby can identify his mom even by smell. His sense of touch is well developed. He can focus on objects approx 25 cms aways and soon he can imitate facial expressions of the people around him. A child is ever anxious to learn. He is most receptive to learning when (i) his body is still, (ii) he looks eagerly at his surroundings and (iii) his breathing is rapid and irregular. When even an infant fulfills these three conditions, start teaching him as if he were 2 or 3 years more than his real age. The results will be gratifying.

The first five years in the cycle of development are the most fundamental and the most formative. No two children are exactly alike. The way a child behaves is largely determined by the body he inherits. As Dr Gessel has expressed, "environmental factors modulate and influence but not determine behaviour". An infant's or a child's behaviour can be strongly influenced by the way his mother treats him. And each mother finds her own ways as a mother of her own special baby. Speed or tempo of movement of each child is, to a large extent, an inborn characteristic. Otherwise, as stated by Byron, a child is "Mischief-making monkey from his birth". On an average, upto school going age, boys tend to be about six months slower in their development than girls. But after that age, according to an English proverb, "one boy is more trouble than dozen girls".

The human life-cycle is governed by natural laws. These laws of development are comparable to the laws of gravitation. Development takes time. It is a continuous process. It is for you, as parents, to create the right environment for learning to achieve a satisfactory rate of development. You have to create a responsive environment in which the child learns to operate and operates and not you that operates.You have to create a human environment in which the child learns to achieve development not from the toys but more from the people around him, from the neighbours and from other children around him. You have to arrange and create occasions for his intimate inter-action with each of the above mentioned group of persons or with those individuals on one-to-one basis. You must vary the environment to sustain the interest of your child. Rotate activities for different objects and different skills. You have to make the learning enjoyable. Tell the child what you are doing and why. Ecourage his going exploring, raising his curiosity and help him to satisfy that curiosity. And the most important thing in this process of learning for growth is that you must quit while the interest is high. He will, in that case, tend to request you to pick up where it was left. His interest and involvement is then bound to be high.

Physical Health

Physical health is very important. Health is not a condition of matter, but of mind. But it is only if his body is in good health that you will be able to effectively attend to questions of his emotional and mental health and to the questions of upgrading his intelligence. In this behalf, the most important items relate to the breast feeding of the child for as long a period as possible. This item has been dealt with in the chapter on breast-feeding. Next items of importance are the other feeding and nutrition and tackling the problems of health hazards like diarrhoea and other diseases which have also been dealt with in separate chapters. Dr Michacl Hastin Banner, a renowned specialist in child-care, has indicated how to tell if the baby is developing normally. He indicates that the following yardsticks for physical growth must be achieved:-

At age 6 weeksBaby should be able to fix his eyes on moving objects, to move all his limbs, smile and respond to sudden noises.
At age 6 monthsHe turns to look at a moving insect. He sits up, grasps objects, watches a rolling ball and is first able to place his weight on his legs
At age 18 monthsHe is able to retrieve the ball. Understands small requests and simple words. Drinks from a cup. Walks and plays with toys. Has a small vocabulry and often is toilet-trained as far as his bowels are concerned.
By age 3 yearsCan talk. Can dress and undress. Is often dry and clean. Can run. Can stand on one leg. Is ready to play with other children independently.

Weight and Height

Then there are yardsticks of height and weight which are indicative of the growth of the child. There is, however, no need for you to worry about his measurements if he is happy and there are sings of his general well being. The range of "normal" weights and heights at a given age is very wide. A new-born boy may weigh anything from 2.5 to 4.5 kgs without giving cause for concern. Similarly a five-year old child may weigh from 13 to 26 kgs without causing much concern. Do not compare the measurements of your child to others of his age. These are dependent also on whether the child is of narrow or broad frame and even on his genes.

To measure your child's height once he is three or four, get him to stand against a wall with his feet together and his heels and shoulderblades touching the wall and head held up, tilting gently the chin upward. Before 3 years you measure his length lying down. Measurements of a child of normal growth are given in the following table:-

AgeAverage weightLowest acceptable weightHighest acceptable weightAverage lenghtLowest acceptable
(in Kgs)(in Kgs)(in Kgs)(in Cms)(in Cms)
on birth3.52.54.550.845.4
6 weeks4.63.36.255.650.0
12 weeks5.74.27.760.054.2
6 weeks7.45.710.067.460.8
9 months8.76.711.570.064.0
12 months9.57.412.673.567.0
18 months10.98.414.480.072.5
24 months12.19.416.286.077.5
2.5 Yrs13.210.217.890.081.5
3 Years14.210.819.593.585.0
4 Years15.812.023.2101.591.5
5 Years18.213.426.8109.098.0

 

The above measurements are for girls. In case of boys, add 7% to those measurements upto the age of 2 years. For boys at ages above 2 years add 3% to the measurements for girls of that age.

Children should be weighed every month upto the age of 6 months and thereafter every 3 months upto the age of 3 years. In case it is feared that the child is not gaining in weight on a regular basis, more frequent checking of the weight is recommended. Weight gain is the most important sign of the child's overall health and development. If for two months there is no increase in weight, it is certainly indicative of a problem. The child is either unwell, is not getting due nutrition or is emotionally upset and is not getting proper attention. In all such cases breastfeeding should be stopped up. Immunization should also be checked and in case of default, necessary immunization got done immediately. It must be ensured that the child is eating 6 times a day there is enough fat and dark green vegetables in the diet. Hygiene of the child must also be checked. Quality of the bottled milk needs special attention because if the child has not been ailing, the main reason for lack of increase in weight could be the fault in the quality of bottled milk. Breast feeding is the best cure for many defaults.

A child upto the age of three years needs six meals a day with adequate quantity of soild foods and fats as he grows. Any default in this will result in the child not gaining weight. In India 43.8% of children suffer from moderate degree of protein energy malnutrition. This can be controlled by adding fats and solids foods in adequate quantities and by drawing in a substantial way on breast-feeding.

Amongst children deficiency of Vitamin A causes about 40,000 new cases of nutritional blindness each year in India. Adequate care should be taken to ensure that your child does not fall into that trap. Feed him on dark green vegetables, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables such as mangoes, papayas and carrots etc. Supplements of vitamin A may also be necessary if the child suffers from recurring attacks of diarrhoea. Vitamin A comes in adequate quantity in breast milk also.

Illnesses are important factors holding back a child's growth. It is the mother's job to know about all the ailments which could possibly affect her child and to take preventive action in that connection. Most of these ailments have been dealt with in another chapter and need your special attention. When the child is ailing, two things happen. First his appetite goes down, and secondly whatever food is eaten, less of that gets absorbed into his system. If it happens several times, there is a great setback to the growth on all fronts. It is, therefore, very necessary to continue feeding him. Offer the child those foods and drinks which he likes. Soft foods, sweet foods, a little at a time and as often as possible should be offered, Steps should be taken to buoy up his spirits. Getting him into the company of a child of his age may work especially if that child is fed in the presence of yours. The child should not be considered to have recovered from the illness until he is at least at the same weight as when the illness began and has become active and plays about as before. It is not too much to repeat another time that breast feeding is the best missile in your armoury to shoot down most of the illnesses. Use it continuously. It will bring you success all the time if you do not throw that missile away prematurely by discontinuing breastfeeding before 18 or 24 months. Breastfeeding must be continued along with solid foods for a long, long time!

Zinc is as much necessary for the growth of the child as it is for an expectant or nursing mother. Zinc is good for the health of the immune system and its deficiency may result in frequent infections, reduced appetite, skin disorders and horizontal white marks on the nails. WHO recommends an intake of 15 mg of zinc per day. Good sources of zinc are cheddar cheese, peanuts, whole wheat bread, eggs, liver, chicken and milk.

In addition to the need for physical growth, there is great need for emotional and mental development.

Emotional Growth

Emotions give life its colour, richness and completeness. Emotions are a positives force that serve to energize and enrich an experience. Emotions on the other hand can also disrupt, disorient or even alienate. Parents have to find out for themselves as to what does the kid want to accomplish by becoming emotional. Emotions may be used to get special attention or to retaliate or to save oneself from functioning. Perents have to control the negative use of emotions. The child may have fear and anxiety. Never laugh at his fear, instead help him to get over it. He may have the fear of darkness or the fear of the school. Encourage him to express his fear and provide a firm resolve that he has to go to school.

Generate a democratic climate in the house, encourage open expression of feelings whether positive or negative. Accept the child as he is. Do not nag. Encourage and oppreciate every small positive step of the child. Respect the child. Listen and clarify. Encourage independence. Do not pity him. Nobody likes to be pitied. Do not use competition the child for doing household chores. It is his share in making the home operational. Do not spoil the child nor promote rebellion by being too strict.

You can help him substantially in his emotional growth by making him feel secure. Never threaten the child at all, much less that he will be deserted or thrown out. Provide a schedule of his feeding and sleeping. Demonstrate your love by hugging, kissing and by holding him. Teach him new skills and pat him when he displays competence. Spend time together. There are many things which can be done together by the mom and her small child and which make him feel being at the centre of things.

Worldly desires and race for fulfilling those desires, cause most of the emotional upsets amongst adults. For a kid whose world gravitates mainly around his mom, a kindly gesture from you makes all the difference to him. He does not have many such other desires which cannot be fulfilled by his mother's grace and intervention. For his emotional growth, demonstration of love from his parents, brother and sister, are enough. They should show their feelings, touch, hug, kiss, care, share and be outgoing. See and experience the magic of physical touch. Smiles and laughter beget smiles and laughter. Actions such as these will provide a guarantee for an emotionally healthy life. Make him feel that family and friends are his life and blood and that he has to foster them.

A very specific need of young children is continuity in their care givers. He is used to getting his security from the one or two individuals and if any of them disappears suddenly, a vacuum is created which will take long to fill. Change in caretakers should, if necessary, be gradual, one taking over from the other with a good overlap period.

Children also gain trust in themselves from being respected as human beings by their parents or care givers. Such a self-assurance helps them to be comfortable with themselves and with all kinds of people, for the rest of their lives. Respect from parents is what teaches children to give respect to their parents in turn. Anger and hatred in the child's family damage the child's inner development.

Emotional health is the basis of the child's development of a sense of security, confidence and the ability to cope well with other people and with the world at large. Emotional relations established very early in life set the pattern of relations in later life.

Building Confidence and Self-respect

Nothing is more risky than sending a child into adolescence with no skills, no unique knowledge, no means of compensating for shortfalls in other areas. You may reward, push or even bribe the child and, if necessary, right from age one, make him learn some special skills, which other children of his age do not have. Take out time to introduce the child to learn and then do something special. Arrange some coaching, if necessary and help the child to compete. Everything your child cannot accomplish, inspite of best efforts should be toned down in importance. Simultaneously avoid over protection. Let him do things on his own which he should so do.

Get chores done by your child, which others, one year older, hesitate to undertake. Objective of getting these chores done is to develop responsibility. Competence and confidence. Show him how to do it with him and then let him do it alone. He will know what your aim is.

Do not bride. The best payment for a job well done is a smile or a hug or telling others, within the child's earshot, how proud you are of him. Paying for say, making a bed detracts from his being a proud member of the family and makes him feel he should be so paid for many other things.

Do not put him to too manu chores. Do not overdo it. Work is valuable, drudgery is not. The child is a member of the family, not its slave. Characterise your home by democratic practices and openness.

You should not only love your child but, in addition, make him believe that he is held in esteem by you. You need to guard what you say or do in the presence of your children. Lead them to think positive and consider you as a confidentally. Even when you have to discipline your child, do it with respect and not in front of others.

Your ultimate goal is developing self-esteem in your child. In addition to overseeing the physical health and well being of your child, you must help him to develop attitudes that nourish his self-esteem. Develop, overtly and covertly, his confidence in the world around him. Develop in him a sense of personal power, which he is even able to demonstrate e.g. ability to move a ball. Make him feel lovable-both by giving love and receiving love. Make him feel special. And if you do that honestly, on the basic of achievements which, though small, are real, your child will become special!

Childhood is a time for play and exploration. Observation and experience from the basic for learning. Fantasy is an essential part of childhood. Emotional and social well-being are as important as academic, artistic or athletic performance. Take special care of his emotional concerns.

Once the child expresses a special interest or displays such interest in a particular activity, you should accept the child's priority and move in that direction. Allow him to experiment and explore. Cultivate respect as the child learns to regulate his own body. Encourage communication with him. Balance your child's success and failure rates and send positive message - not necessarily verbal.

Routine followed by parents is seen by the child as a great adventure. Each new thing he learns is a source of great pleasure for him. Bringing out his appetite for learning is one of your most important jobs as a parent. Create a role for yourself According to Plutarch "the wildest colts make the best horses". Encourage his explorations and appetite for learning. Let him become a "wild colt" but keep the remote control in your hand.

Let your child take the lead in finding one the areas of interest and play. Show your child that he is smart and capable. Step back to your own childhood and develop your own zest for learning to be passed on to your child.

In a child appreciation of aesthetic experiences is established well before artistic expression. By the time a child is 18 month old, he has been responding to music, pictures and rhymes for many months but his creative experiences are still very limited. His first artistic attempts are simple and random as he experiments with various media. At 2 years his expeimentation is still manipulative but is becoming more vigorous, more defined and more complicated. He is less individualistic in his artistic expression than he was earlier. He is becoming strongly imitative. At 3 years, order begins to emerge along with more precision and control in the use of artistic media. Gradually imagination enters (about 4 years) and is combined with humour to form products which are a delight to the child.

Singing songs, learning rhymes, drawing pictures and reading stories aloud help the child's mind to grow and prepares the way for learning more and more. A child needs help to develop creativity. Help in these areas will increase his proficiency in these skills. He will soon find himself above others in those areas which are considered fine and artistic. His self-confidence will grow and self-respect increase.

Play is not pointless. It is one of the most essential parts of growing up. This play should be for play's sake. While playing with other children, he is continuously learning many manipulative skills which he cannot learn in the company of adults. Providing useful materials and ideas for plays is to be your contribution to his picking up new ideas and new skills which always add to the growth of his personality. Once he becomes cognizant of his own personality, he is on a track of constant growth. He soon learns that though remaining and active member of the community "he travels fastest who travels alone". His personality grows only in its personal manifestation.

Learning Manners

Manners are the outward sings of your consideration and respect for others. For learning manners the first step and the most important thing is to have the child like people. Manners are morals. Manners are ways of respecting others. If the child likes people he meets, he would fell like even sharing a fascinating experience with them and that is a good unconventional way of giving an expression to his good manners.

Another important step is for children to grow up in a family whose members are considerate of each other. Then they radiate kindliness. In that environment even if some one does not utter the words - thank you, it is fine because perhaps that feeling is conveyed ten times over by that affectionate radiance from your bright eyes.

The children have to be introduced to others in a healthy environment where the visitors get respect from the parents and vice versa. That is a good back-drop against which you teach your child just how to be polite and considerate. If it is done in a friendly spirit he is proud to learn. He observes that every body likes good mannered children and would like to join the rank of likeable children. The appreciation they get makes them more friendly. That is an incentive for improving their manners still further. Children should be coached about manners when you are alone with them and not in the embarrasing company of others. It is the nagging tone, the bossiness that even a young child finds irritating. Let such coaching be done in the privacy of the loving parent-child relationship.

We can teach our children good manners only by example. Manners will become important to children if they are important to parents and if they continue reminding the child in subtle ways. The desire of a 2 or 3 year old to please others makes him more receptive to learning simple courtesies. He will learn from your behaviour - how you treat women or your own daughters, how friendly you treat other men and how you participate and enjoy family life or how rude and violent you are to others. He believes consciously and sub0consciously that your way is the correct way of dealing with others and he will follow your example - whether it is good manners or bad? This overt and covert learning starts from age one.

He has to be taught how to meet people. Shake hands or exchange greetings and even make courtesies. How nice it is to see a 2 or 3 year old with folded hands making a Japanese style courtesy with a bow to a friend of the family. One would like to lift and kiss such a child and if that is done in return, by the visitor, what a boost to his affectionate personality it would be. Such an appreciation is generally easy to come as the visitors know, praise the child, and you please the mother. Table manners and simple answering a telephone by a 3 or 4 year old could add to his personality. Good conversation habits, maintaining eye to eye contact, giving him equal time in his conversation with you and waiting to speak instead of interrupting, are such simple yet so impressive as manners that these manners will add ten fold to the maturity of the child. Franklin says, "teach your child to hold his tongue, He will learn fast enough to speak". When your friends come to visit, include the child in conversation for the first few minutes before suggesting another activity for him. He should be taught to eat with grace, holding a door instead of letting it slam and using language that does not offend. Scores of other examples could be given but any thing which is the outward sign of our consideration and respect for others is good manners and must be encouraged.

Let us now refer passingly to some examples of bad manners too. Tough talk, unkempt style of clothes and hair, untied shoe laces, coming to table with dirty hands, stuffing their mouths with big morsels of food, throwing the clothes on the floor, slamming the door or leaving it open. These are some examples of bad manners and must be avoided. Good manners will help children to be sociable and popular not only with their own age group but also with the elders.

You should always include your baby in social gatherings and teach him the basic pleasantries from as early an age as possible. Introduce him to a number of new faces. Before exposing the child to such social gatherings, the parents could play games with the child, introducing each other, shaking hands, bidding good bye, applauding and other social graces including grown-up courtesies.

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