By Lydia Kaiser
When we think of health, physical health comes to mind first. But a wholistic view of the person includes five areas of health. In addition to physical, there’s mental health, emotional health, social health and spiritual health. All aspects of health inform the others, either supporting or tearing down.
Our physical body is the most demanding, crying out for food, rest, attention to injuries or illness, and even demanding exercise and a breath of fresh air. Taking care of the physical needs of children is demanding, especially because physical safety is always a concern. So, we probably have the least difficulty paying attention to this area of health, but it’s important since nutrition, rest, and exercise affect other aspects of health.
Then, we’re always teaching children, so thinking of their intellectual growth, but not necessarily their mental health, which is largely dependent on the thought life. That is harder to see and evaluate. It’s important that we watch out for negative thinking patterns and teach children to think God’s thoughts about themselves and life. A person is not just a tool in God’s toolbox or an object to worship Him. The child should know God values him as a unique person, created in God’s image whom God wants to have a real relationship with.
Social health is positive relationships and the ability to adapt and act appropriately in social situations. It involves communication skills, empathy, and accountability. We often teach our children what to do, and what not to do, but sometimes not the why. In the big picture, it’s really all about helping others feel comfortable. If a child is empathetic and more concerned about whether a friend appears lonely or is having a hard time, he will forget whether he himself is feeling awkward and just reach out, resulting in both of them doing better. Honoring others with his speech – the volume, pace, and content, helps relationships. Being accountable to practice good social habits (such as being on time) leads to good social health.
Spiritual health is finally being recognized even by secularists as important to other aspects of health, even contributing to better performance in school. Research from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education found that students who practice religion on a regular basis have a higher GPA even after taking many other factors into consideration. We know that mature faith in God (not faith in ourselves or faith in faith itself), has a positive effect on all aspects of health because it informs our decisions about what we think, how we interact with others, how we view our body as God’s temple, and how we process our emotions.
Because most of us work hard enough to keep our bodies in a constant state of fatigue, we automatically look for shortcuts in childrearing. It’s easier to take care of the physical, intellectual, social and perhaps even the spiritual, but it takes extra involvement to care for the emotional. Sometimes we think that if we really pump the spiritual instruction, the emotional will take care of itself and God will do all the nurturing that He put us there to do.
Some say that today, we’re putting too much emphasis on the “touchy feely” and correct doctrine will take care of emotions. That’s true to some extent. We have to believe truth in order to bring our feelings in line. But at the same time, it is our emotions and will that respond to the Holy Spirit. Response to God’s love is an emotional response. In conjunction, the emotions and will answer the call of God to surrender one’s life. And let’s not forget that we’re created in God’s image and He has emotions. He’s emoting all through the Bible. He encourages His people to express honest laments that seem incorrect and disrespectful.
All aspects of health inform the others, either supporting or tearing down. If we are ill in any one of them, every other aspect of health suffers. God gave us the responsibility to nurture every aspect of children. It’s a big job. Don’t let preoccupations take you away from all five of their needs.
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