You don’t have to wait for your child to catch their next cold to try out acupuncture; we recommend bringing kids in for seasonal tune-ups. The change of season is difficult for many children to transition through and it’s a common time when kids get sick or chronic ailments flare up. A visit to your acupuncturist can help ease this transition and boost your child’s immune system. Our patients bring their children in to see us for help with a wide range of problems including repeated ear infections, digestive troubles, behavioral issues, asthma and allergies.
Children are really interesting to work with from an acupuncturists’ point of view. Our diagnostic skills are used first and foremost in discovering the best form of treatment. Practitioners must rely more heavily on observation, listening, and palpation. Discerning the child’s disposition is also a big part in considering the best course of action. Some kids run right into the office instantly making themselves at home while others hide behind their mothers, feeling very shy or even fearful. These differences among children are obviously going to influence how quickly we get started with the treatment and even how we proceed. It doesn’t do much good to have a screaming child vowing never to return just as long as we get to needle them!
Like the start of any good relationship, it takes a little finessing to get the ball rolling. The practitioner and child check each other out, exchange a smile or laugh. We may even sit on the floor and play with toys or draw a picture. Playtime is actually a valuable period during which we can gain additional information about the child just through observation. Once the child becomes more comfortable, the treatment can progress. Since kids aren’t the most reliable at recounting signs and symptoms, parents are also great sources of information.
You might be surprised at how many children are actually ok with having acupuncture. After a couple of treatments, some even start directing where to “put the next flag” (kid-speak for pediatric needle insertion). There are, of course, children who don’t react well to the idea of acupuncture but that’s fine because we always have other tricks up our sleeves.
In fact, because kids are such little balls of energy they respond really well to cutaneous stimulation – so needling is not always a necessary part of treatment. In place of needling, we often use cutaneous electrical stimulation or our “tickle machine.” This is a favored technique of our 6 and under demographic. Shoni shin is another common modality used in pediatrics. It’s a technique employing several tools used on the skin in a non-invasive way to manipulate the qi on the surface of the body. Most treatments consist of a combination of acupuncture, tui na (therapeutic massage), shoni shin, gua sha (scraping the surface of the skin), and cupping.
I’ve found cupping to be a big hit with toddlers, not to mention really effective in treating all sorts of respiratory disorders. I recently had a very active 16-month-old boy running around the office. He was laughing while looking at himself with cups suctioned to his back. At his next visit, he immediately took his shirt off and started patting his back asking for cups. He said he wanted me to make him look like a giraffe again (the cups leave little round marks on the back not unlike a giraffe’s spots). Kids can even have fun being treated!
Treating children is more like treating a moving target. They definitely keep you on your toes. Their little bodies change so quickly, they can be fine one minute and sick the next. Offering non-threatening acupuncture and its alternatives, often accompanied by Chinese medicine, gives our kid clients at the Yinova Center a head start on feeling and staying healthy … and, often, a chance to play!