A week ago, I attended a weeklong training on child development. It was a convergence of doctors, teachers, students, farmers, parents, and like-minded individuals interested in learning about the different stages of childhood and adolescence according to the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and his Anthroposophic movement (Anthropo = human, Sophia = wisdom). The gathering was called IPMT, for International Postgraduate Medical Training.
Even though I was a bit hesitant to join at first, given it was technically a medical training and I have no medical background, what I found ultimately was a community of open-hearted seekers who together created a safe space for all present to learn, share, and grow. The mix of attendees – from fields of medicine, education, and other forms of healing – added to the cornucopia of wisdom, and daily exchanges enriched the minds, bodies and souls of all.
I think the best way to sum it up is to share the top lessons I’m taking away from the conference. Here they are:
- Children choose their parents. They come into this life with karmic histories and this life will present them with challenges they have previewed and chosen in advance that they will need to overcome to move onto their next stage of evolution.
- Infants are so very sensitive and intuitive. They can feel everything their parents feel. They sense when something is off. For example, when they don’t feel safe – which may be due to a quarrel between their parents – they can’t sleep. They imitate everything, so parents need to establish good habits for themselves and set good examples because children WILL follow everything you do.
- If possible, a natural birth (through the vaginal canal) and breastfeeding are super beneficial and irreplaceable. The life / death situation of birth is symbolic of all living processes around us, and babies will be stronger if they struggle to enter this life. Babies also want to enter this life when they are ready. Breastfeeding provides the baby with bacteria and antibodies that will help them develop a healthy microbiome, which will lead to healthy digestion and a strong immune system.
- The feeling of warmth in the home is so important. Only through experiences of love, hugs, and touch will children be able to feel (sometimes literally!) the boundary between themselves and another, which will later on help them develop healthy boundaries with others and the ability to confidently say yes or no.
- Children do not only need loving, present parents but a community of caregivers and role models, whether it be comprised of extended family, friends, or teachers. It truly takes a village to raise a child – especially a healthy, sociable, compassionate, well-developed child.
- Schooling is NOT necessary or beneficial for a child under the age of seven. This one is hard for me to accept as I went to school young and feel I turned out fine. But, the brain does not fully develop for academic learning, on average, until a child reaches the age of seven. What is more appropriate and engaging for a child is outdoor play and exploration. To give a child the gift of curiosity and wonder for the world is priceless and far outweighs early mastery of the ABCs. One exception is music – a child who learns an instrument and practices music from a young age will experience enhanced brain development and intelligence of many sorts.
- Do not interrupt a child at play. Children need to feel they are able to explore to their heart’s content. A child who experiences this kind of interruption may grow accustomed to it, to expect it, and later on may potentially develop attention challenges. If you are worried they will miss meal time, fret not: when children feel hungry, they will naturally come to you.
- If a child does not want to eat, do NOT force feed. The mouth is the body’s most sensitive region. Instead, entice the child’s appetite through the smell of aromatic food.
- Fever and other illnesses are actually a means for the child to fully incarnate and develop his or her strength and immunity. Do not suppress fever with conventional medicines. “Support” the fever – allow it to take its course while of course making sure your child is as comfortable as possible, remaining well-hydrated, rested, and cool with lemon water towels. Often fever and other illnesses are followed by a newly developed ability in the child, whether it be enhanced ability to talk or move.
- As a child grows into adolescence, it is crucial for the child to feel the opposing forces and energies of mother and father. The mother will especially feel challenged by this period. It may be good for the child to experience being away from home for a while, to gain some independence. Eventually, through a gap between the mother and father (not physical, but may be engendered through slightly different perspectives on how to deal with certain situations, for example), the adolescent will emerge as his or her own person.
- It is only at the age of 21 that a young adult’s brain is fully developed and that his or her “ego” fully descends. This is when the young adult can make decisions clearly and confidently, according to his or her own morals and values. It can be dangerous for adults under this age to be put in situations that contain a moderate element of risk and people in position of unchallenged command (e.g. the military). Young adults under this age are not yet able to make full use of their decision making capabilities.
- Lastly, INTENTION is everything. As a doctor, as a teacher, as a parent, if you hold good intentions toward a child, they can feel it. Even if you are unable to carry out your duties perfectly, positive intention will carry you forward. According to Steiner, “if the patient, simply through the individuality of the physician, is brought to a point where he feels the physician’s will-to-heal, the reflex action in him is that he will be filled with the will to become healthy. This interplay of the will-to-heal and the will to be healthy plays a tremendous part in the therapeutic process.”
I’m hoping any of the above can prove useful to anyone who is raising a child, thinking of raising a child, or has loved ones or friends raising children. I believe it is crucial to be aware of how our children are being raised, and the potential effects of our decisions, because, as cheesy as it sounds, children really are the ones who will carry the torch of humanity into the future.
Feeling grateful for opportunities to share, exchange, learn, and uplift one another. Here’s to future IPMTs and other learning convergences.