While many adults are open to treating their own ailments with acupuncture and Chinese medicine, it is still not widely embraced as a treatment for children. Why is that? This is likely due to the fear of many parents that their children will not tolerate the standard treatment of needles and herbs. Parents need to be educated about the different noninvasive techniques that pediatric acupuncturists can use to effectively and gently treat children. Chinese medicine can be a powerful adjunctive treatment for many common pediatric health conditions and should be considered by parents as a viable alternative solution.
Search for a reputable acupuncturist by asking for recommendations from family, friends, business associates and your pediatrician. You can also search the online database of the NCCAOM, a national organization that certifies acupuncturists. An additional source of referrals might be your state’s acupuncture association.
The acupuncturist will want a thorough health history, including details regarding the pregnancy and delivery, vaccinations, diet, medications and other concurrent therapies. Supplying this necessary, but time-consuming information during your child’s actual treatment time could be difficult, especially if your child is very young and needs your constant attention and supervision. It is better to have a phone consultation prior to the first visit and then the appointment can be focused on the acupuncturist’s evaluation and treatment of your child.
If you are bringing your active toddler or preschooler for an acupuncture treatment, you want to ensure that the office environment is safe for them. Make sure that sharps containers, acupuncture needles, alcohol pads, and other medical supplies are out of reach of curious hands. Also, a practitioner who is experienced in treating children will have toys, stuffed animals, books, and other age-appropriate items in their office to make it a more appealing environment for their young patients.
The appointment is your opportunity as a parent to be educated about how to best support the treatment at home with diet, herbs and acupressure massages. Ask the acupuncturist to instruct you in some simple acupressure protocols that you can implement at home to reinforce the effects of the in-office treatments.
In China, this is considered the singular most important day to treat children each month. The reason is found within the philosophy of Chinese medicine. Children are considered to have an abundance of YANG energy, the hot, dynamic, superficial and easy to change energy that fuels their movement, growth and development. When the Moon is full it is considered to be at its most Yang point in the lunar cycle (the Moon itself embodying the energies of Yin). Thus, when children who are full of Yang are treated on the Full Moon, the day of maximum Yang energy, they are most receptive to the healing powers of acupressure, which is a Yang modality.
While pediatrics is a standard subject taught in acupuncture schools not all practitioners have had an opportunity to actually treat children in their private practices. In Chinese medicine children, are not treated as little adults, but as individuals with specific energetic issues. When you interview potential acupuncturists, find out how much experience they actually have had with pediatric patients.
Depending upon the age of your child, they may or not be treated with needles. Children younger than five years old are often given acupressure treatments with shonishin devices, which are metal tools that rub or scratch the points, but that don’t penetrate the skin.
Alternatively, some practitioners will burn moxa (an herb) in a metal holder and then hold it close over the acupressure points to warm them. Sometimes magnetic balls will be taped on points and the parents will be instructed to remove them in a specified period of time.
If you have had acupuncture treatments yourself, then be prepared for a significant difference in a pediatric treatment. The actual length of the treatment will be just a fraction of the time of an adult session, lasting between 15-30 minutes. When needles are used with children there is rarely ever any needle retention, it goes in and comes right out. Whereas with adults, needles are often left in for 25-45 minutes. Even acupressure treatments are short with points being massaged for 2-3 minutes each. The reason for the difference in treatment time is due to the relative ease to access the Qi or essential energy of children. Unlike adults who have a lifetime of energetic residue, children are still clear and react easily and quickly to simple treatments.
Unfortunately, acupuncturists are labeled according to one of the techniques that they use, but it doesn’t define the full scope of their services. Acupuncturists are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of disease according to the principles of Chinese medicine and their training involves much more than just needles. They learn to treat imbalances with herbal therapy, dietary therapy, energetic exercises (Tai Chi and Qi Gong), massage (tuina) and to stimulate acu-points with needles, moxa and acupressure. So it is likely that the acupuncturist will draw upon their many skills to treat your child.
If your child is tired, hungry, or very upset, postpone their first acupuncture treatment. As with all things, timing is important. You want to create positive associations in your child’s mind about going to visit the acupuncturist’s office, so bring them when they are well-fed, rested, and in a (relatively) good mood. With the appropriate bedside manner their acupuncturist may well become one of their favorite people.
If you are struggling with your children’s health issues, be it constipation, cough, teething pain or sleep issues, consider acupuncture and Chinese medicine as a possible alternative treatment. A visit to an acupuncturist will provide you with a different perspective on your child’s condition and in addition to the treatment they will receive in the office, you will also leave empowered with various tools (dietary advice, herbs, acupressure protocols) to improve their health at home. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can be used from cradle to grave so get your child started on a lifetime of good health.
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