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A Healthy Child Is More Than Skin and Bones

Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005, carving a path of destruction which affected thousands of souls living in the coastal regions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Katrina did more than just damage buildings and businesses 'it has created a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen in the United States since the Great Depression.

Over a million people, adults and children alike, have been displaced 'their homes, gone. Their jobs, washed away by the ravaging storm waters. With the horrors of the storm past them, they are faced with the task of rebuilding their homes and their lives. My heart and prayers go out to all those affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Rebuilding a life that has been shattered by a disaster can be a daunting task.

Physical needs are attended to first 'food and shelter. Once secured, thoughts turn towards finding employment. Having attended to the vital physical needs of our family, we must focus on the emotional factor.

Building strong and healthy children involves more than filling their tummies with the right foods, giving them milk for healthy bones and making sure they get enough sleep. Healthy children are built upon a strong foundation of self-esteem, resilience and ego. Developing the internal building blocks is not easy but every parent has the tools to ensure that they raise well-rounded, secure and healthy children.

Your parental tasks begin the moment your child is born. It is your duty from their first breath to foster an environment for healthy development, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. Nurturing the internal building blocks from birth is the best way to ensure that your child develops a strong sense of self and the ability to cope with all of life's joys and challenges. Begin early and continue for life. Your child will always be your child 'you can still teach them long after they stop needing you to kiss their booboos and hold them while they cry. Interact with your child; model good behavior, honor their strengths 'it is the only way to ensure that your child is strong and healthy in all spectrums.

Let's take a peek at 5-year old David:

David and his family have been re-located to Baton Rouge in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He has a new home, a new school and new class mates. He doesn't know where his best friend, Charlie, is living now.

David's mother is approached by one of the teachers when she picks him up from his after-school program. David is having some difficulty adjusting to his new environment and is displaying behaviors that are disruptive to his peers: hitting, grabbing, and yelling. David's parents have noted some of these behaviors at home but not to the extent reported by his teachers.

On the way home, David's mother asks about his day. David chats happily about reading out loud in front of the class and scoring a goal in soccer during gym class. He does not mention his negative behaviors, though he is aware that his teacher addressed the issue with his mother. David's mother does not press him for full disclosure, opting to wait until dinner when David's father will be present to participate in the discussion. She plans to speak to David's father privately before dinner to apprise him of the teacher's comments.

At dinner, David's father asks about his day 'specifically his after school program. David begins to recount the events of his day, again neglecting to mention anything about the after school program. David's mother waits until he has finished sharing and gently prods David to speak about his behavior in the after-school program. She tells David that she spoke with his teacher who is concerned that he is having a difficult time and seems very angry.

At first, David dismisses the conversation, claiming that the teacher overstated the episodes. He then begins to cry and state that he is a bad person and that he hates himself. He continues by stating that no one likes him and that he feels scared. Mom and Dad wait until he calms down and begin a discussion with him to see if they could determine the origin of these feelings. David speaks of feeling scared and lonely in the new program which leads him to believe that something was wrong with him because nobody would play with him like they did at his old school.

David's parents share some strategies for getting to know new people and reassure him that it takes time for others to get to know him. They also help him see the strengths and positive elements of himself that he can draw on when he feels scared and lonely. They encourage him to show these strengths to engage others and to begin to build relationships without conflict. Mom and Dad help David make a list of his strengths 'his honesty, his smile, and his willingness to help others 'and they place it on the refrigerator for David to review as needed.

David's parents help David to look inside himself for the strengths that he needs to live a life that is secure and with minimal conflicts. It is important for all parents to help their children through life's difficulties by teaching them to identify their talents and abilities and rely on them for strength through troubling times.

Your role in nurturing a healthy child is strengthened by following these guidelines:

1) Begin Early: Root the seeds of your child's strength and self-reliance by addressing basic needs in a structured and consistent manner designed to build trust.

2) Identify: Talk to your children to help them recognize the strengths within themselves.

3) Assist and Support: Help your children to access their strengths in times of need to resolve internal and external conflicts.

Teaching your child how to rely on his / her strengths is one of the most important lessons a parent can impart. Always ask for assistance when unsure of how to proceed.

About the Author
Dr. Charles Sophy currently serves as Medical Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. He also has a private psychiatry practice in Beverly Hills, California.

Dr. Sophy is the author of the "Keep 'Em Off My Couch" blog and provides real simple answers for solving life's biggest problems. To contact Dr. Sophy, visit his blog at

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