Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Spotlight on TCM Pediatrics: Inherent Characteristics of Children

Most authoritative discussions of traditional Chinese pediatric medicine always begins with a list of fundamental inherent characteristics of children.

It's kind of a mouthful -- and phrased differently in different texts -- but the idea is that children are, by nature, different from adults anatomically and physiologically, and - by extension - mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Chinese medicine practitioners have, over the millenia, through medical practice & observation, teased out some of the factors that set children apart from adults.

I think these "inherent characteristics" are fun to think about --- and, of course, they have implications for clinical treatment & lifelong health. Discussion of TCM pediatrics in popular forums is sparse, so, I thought I'd hash out some of these "characteristics" over a series of blogposts.

Let me start by saying that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a highly effective option in the treatment of children. In fact, children typically respond more quickly to the subtle influences of TCM treatment than adults do because they are growing and changing so rapidly. However, children can not simply be treated as mini-versions of adults. To treat children effectively, a TCM practitioner must consider the inherent characteristics of children, which necessarily inform diagnosis and treatment.

The classical Chinese medical texts, which were written by many different physician-authors over the course of several thousand years and form the basis for modern TCM, abound with sayings or proverbs. These proverbs are usually four or five Chinese characters long. The inherent characteristics of children lists also come from these classical texts and follow this format. Some examples are:

"Children's Spleen is often insufficient."

"Children's Yin is often insufficient."

"Children's organs are fragile and soft, Qi easily leaves its path."

"Children easily become ill, and their illness quickly becomes serious."

"Yin & yang organs are clear & spirited. They easily & quickly regain their health."

Lists of the characteristics of children vary somewhat among the different TCM source texts available in the English language. My presentation will draw on various sources, but is ultimately my own summary.

Who Counts as a Kid in Chinese Medicine?

From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, the kidneys control developmental cycles in human life. Women are thought to follow seven-year cycles and men eight year cycles (the end of the first cycle characterized by the loss of baby teeth & the growth of permanent teeth at ages 7 & 8, and the end of the second cycle marked by the onset of puberty and maturation of reproductive capacities at ages 14 & 16, for girls and boys respectively) -- this according to the first chapter of the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, the fundamental text of traditional Chinese medicine, compiled between 400 and 200 BCE, roughly.

The principles and considerations of Chinese medicine pediatrics apply to children during the first 7- or 8-year life cycle and, to a lesser extent, during the second cycle. The same Chinese medicine diagnostic and treatment principles that are applied to adults can mostly be applied to teenagers after they've hit through puberty. However, the first life transition at 7/8 years and, more importantly perhaps, the transition of puberty can be viewed through a Chinese medicine lens, and Chinese medicine can be useful in easing challenges that arise during these transitions. Maybe this is material for another blogpost.

Stay tuned for more discussion on the Fundamental Inherent Characteristics of Children in future posts.

A few sources:

Julian Scott & Teresa Barlow. Acupuncture in the Treatment of Children. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1991.

Bob Flaws. A Practitioner's Guide to the Care & Treatment of Common Childhood Diseases, Boulder: Blue Poppy Press, 1997.