Could there be a bright side to childhood illnesses?

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Nobody likes to be sick. Most mums hate their kid being sick even more! It can be so scary to see our little ones looking so vulnerable, even minor symptoms can get turned into major meltdowns in our minds…

Yet I come from a natural health background. I have a slightly different take on disease than many other people I know, so much so that I see many illnesses as good and helpful (even as my mind, too, can go into overdrive – I need to work to keep it in check, sometimes). And amidst it all, I always remember that Rudolf Steiner believed that childhood illnesses – if completely expressed (not repressed) – actually have a cleansing effect on the body which in turn liberates the mind. What he observed was that following a bout of illness, especially one which includes a fever, a child often experiences a developmental leap.

Now, the theory that illnesses can actually be good for us – that they are an outward sign of the body’s activation of an ’emergency cleaning protocol’, when the congestion/pollution get to overwhelming levels – is not exclusive to Steiner by any means. All naturopaths and homeopaths hold some version of this vision of health and disease. This school of thought holds that the body is always acting in our highest interest and doing its utmost to return to balance using the means it has at its disposal (including excretion through skin, lungs or colon and through fever). In this way of looking at health, it is our responsibility as stewards of our own bodies to nourish, trust and support our body in its every effort to keep us healthy – including through acute illnesses, such as those commonly experienced in childhood like measles, chickenpox and the like. Steiner’s take is interesting because he adds this childhood-developmental-leap twist. Could it be that diseases, when ex-pressed fully (that is, when all the morbidity, toxicity and waste of the body are expelled through the skin as rashes, through the bowels, through mucous, etc. with none of the symptoms being suppressed) are helping to keep not only the body but also the mind tip-top, ‘clean’ and functioning to its highest potential?

Let’s be careful here, I am not saying ‘don’t treat illness’ or anything of the sort but we can treat it in different ways. If we chose to approach imbalance by supporting the body to mobilise its defenses and handle it itself, the body responds in a different way. You can, for example, chose to build the body’s defenses, help clear elimination pathways and eat only simple, natural foods and herbs that help the healing process – as opposed to just suppressing (admitedly scary) symptoms without concern for the impact on the rest of the body in the short and long term. What I realise is that when you help the body do its work it, in turn, repays you…

The question is, now that you have heard this about illness and fevers clearing the way for developmental leaps, will you see it? I heard this theory of Steiner’s years ago and have been looking out to see if it did or did not hold true with the children I know. So far, I have got to say, I so often see a child bounding back from an illness (one that has been completely resolved, that is) with renewed energy and even with mastery over new skills – as if they had just had a month’s rest followed by a breakthrough :)  With an open mind, I ask: could it be?

And now I have the chance to witness it it with my own child. This week we have all been sick. I got the stomach bug first, followed by Nica, then NinjaDad. We all got different manifestations of it. It was not fun. But yesterday, as the fever passed, along with the other symptoms, Nica was talking up a storm, with crazy-long sentences, and even her imaginative play seemed to kick-up to a whole new level with a visit to the ‘store’ followed by a ‘picnic’ in our living room. My curiosity remains peeked. What about yours?

What has been your experience? All fear aside, once the disease (the emotional bit for us mums) is resolved naturally, without use of antibiotics or other suppressive medicines, did you see a cognitive or developmental leap occur with your child? This is purely anecdotal, of course, but stay tuned and come share your experiences…

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Disclaimer: the above represents my personal views and should not replace the advice of a qualified medical practioner. If your child is or becomes ill please take care and consult with their pediatrician, immediately. 

Take Good Care of Your Body – Louise L. Hay – Heal Your Life.


10 thoughts on “Could there be a bright side to childhood illnesses?

  1. My dd hasn’t been sick more than three times so I can’t say anything about her.

    I can say that for myself, once I left my mother’s house and stopped the “normal” medications for random colds and began to eat fresh foods, I saw a marked decrease in the number of times I was sick and when I was sick, it was for less time.

    I am not convinced about cognitive leaps, however, I am on board that some of the diseases we encounter we’ve evolved with symbiotically and that the infection is mutually beneficial in some way (the virus/bacteria get to live and breed, and we gain some benefit of protection from something else). Much like the connection between the Milk Maids of the not so distant past who got cow pox and were thus immune to small pox.

    It’s why I am concerned about the focus on eradicating Chicken Pox rather than finding ways to manage the illness in those few individuals for whom it is dangerous. Just like any other species on this planet, CP is filling a niche…*something*…is going to move into the open spot.

    • [I wrote a long answer to this and the system lost it – grrr]

      It is great that your DD hasn’t been sick. Fab.

      I get that you haven’t seen one of these developmental leaps after an illness… but is it possible? After all, an illness is essentially a nature-enforced detox, if you don’t keep the body clean and clear it will clean itself out for you. And would you not expect to feel better (in body and mind) after a detox? Would you not expect your thoughts to be clearer and to have more energy (the very building stuffs of a developmental leap)?!

      Really, if you do a cleanse (to borrow an analogy from Amber who commented on the LovingEarthMama facebook page) you are most likely to do things like:
      – skin brushing to help pull toxins out through the skin
      – enemas or colonic irrigation to eliminate via the bowell
      – netti pots to clear the nasal passageways
      – fast or eat simple broths and juices

      Illness effectively mimics all of that:
      – rashes eliminate acidity and toxicity via the dermis
      – gastric conditions help us flush out the colon (so to speak)
      – colds and flus clear out our respiratory apparatus/ airways
      – force us to fast or eat very simple broths and juices

      Personally, I do expect to feel better (eventually) after a detox and yes, it is so much better to do it in advance (though eating a clean diet, for example, as you mention) but we live in the real, messy, modern world and all of us are exposed to some toxins so most of us still get sick, occasionally – which is, basically, when we have not kept clean our body will clean itself out for us (piggy-backing on an illness some may say… others would say the disease IS the clear-out). So, yes, for me it is possible…

  2. YES! I have seen this in my own children and it makes sense to me!

    I’ll admit though, that I haven’t always responded in faith when illness strikes though. My kids (3 1/2 & 19 mos) have each been through one round of antibiotics for an ear infection that got pretty bad. I regret it so much! We ended up with digestive and dental problems that just weren’t worth it. I *should* have been diligent to do nasal flushes, etc – and have been since!

    Still, when my baby hits 103 in the middle of the night and I’m afraid she’ll seize or get worse while we’re sleeping, I give her tylenol instead of staying up with her.

    It’s a tough balance. I appreciate your humble tone throughout your writing. We have so many decisions to make as parents – and they are all so important! Thanks for the encouragement1

    • Aaaah, yes. There is a big difference between knowing something and being able to live it, right. I TOTALLY get this (from so many areas of my own life). I am super lucky because I myself was brought up like this. My parents brought me up all natural: no baby vaccinations (I had tetanus for school and some others for travel when I was older), no antibiotics, only natural and home remedies used throughout. Actually the cesarean birth of my child was the first big exception (talk about being humbled :) Anyway, this background gives me a little more faith, but really I still have doubts and fears, too, just like everybody else, it is just that in the middle of the doubts I remember it was done… it is possible to heal the body naturally. But we seem to be surrounded by messages of fear that contradict this – so yes, it takes effort to trust and have faith in something bigger, something different from the ‘establishment’.

      I am also lucky with having a legacy of good books to turn to which remind me of the things we can do at these times of crisis. My first tendency is often to fear the worst, too (I think that is built-in in the motherhood genes – to make sure we don’t become nonchalant when something really bad is happening)… but then I pull myself back, look at what is really there in front of me and go through the steps, working with the tools I have got… and the doctor is, of course, one of the resources we are lucky to have, but in my case that is usually my last port of call. But again I know I am lucky and that this background is still unusual. Then I look at all the wonderful parents who belong to the natural parenting communities online and I think, the next generation is blessed :)

  3. I could see such a connection if the individual in question were hindered by an illness or nutritional deficiency and after the body finished evicting the invader or got the fuel it needed then the mind, yes, would clear and the body would get back to business and have a resurgence of energy, focus, growth or healing. And you’d have the gumption and energy to make a leap.

    But I don’t see it as an illness *needs* to happen in order for that to occur. Lack of illness doesn’t mean, for example, the immune system isn’t getting a grand workout or that the body isn’t cleaning house. It just means that it is winning the battles before the body gets overwhelmed and needs to take more drastic measures and shows outward signs of it.

    Forgive me…pet peeve coming up! It isn’t illness mimicing the netti pots or enemas or choice to eat light foods, that’s *us* copying the body’s battle stations :) (couldn’t help myself! forgive!)

    I agree with you though, the world we live in and the tendency for our culture to eliminate and mask symptoms, the some bodies do need more help since it may be in a constant state of “not doing so good” and “battle fatigued”. But if you are not in that state and are near maximum efficiency, it won’t change anything. As you said, the body is designed to be self-sufficient. But I see it as that the body does those things automatically and low key, and unnoticed as general maintenance–and that’s the ideal state to be in.

    I just don’t see the *illness* being the detox. I see illness as an invasion that that the body has merely realized has gotten out of hand, gotten overwhelmed and needing to put more muscle into it and having an obvious purge we can’t help but notice.

    Though, I can grant that fighting off Illness A can inadvertently take care of random Problem C purely by happenstance.

    • Oh, I totally agree that illness is not the only or even the best way to ‘detox’, was that not clear? Of course it is much better to eat cleanly – as you do – and to live a life that minimises the accumulation of toxins and clears them out (through cleanses of different kinds) often and easily. And, yeah, duh, I wasn’t meaning to say our bodies are copying detoxes, quite the opposite, so in fact I think we are very much on the same page, there – although obviously I didn’t make that clear from my writing. I get that you don’t see illnesses are cleanes. Perhaps I could direct you to… hmm… I would direct you to some awesome books that could give you more food for thought, should you be interested to explore this more, but my books are all boxed up after move and I am blanking out on their names (the specific ones). But anyway, this guy is super awesome: and I just discovered my nutrition teacher wrote a book: that should be a zinger, too. But hey, we can agree to disagree. Overall it sounds like our philosophies are very similar and that our practices are even more in line: it is all about prevention, clean living, healthy, fresh, green food and lots of fresh air. I think there is more here that resonates than that which doesn’t – compared to many of our peers, especially, we are very much on the same end of the spectrum. Keep it coming. It is all good.

  4. Thanks for the article! I very much agree with what you say. Unlike vaccinations which require a number of boosters in keeping with the principle of “If something is useless, more of it may be better”, childhood illnesses normally result in lifelong immunity. There is also evidence that having overcome a childhod illness protects against certain types of cancers later in life. Girls who have had mumps are e.g. less likely to suffer ovarian cancer later in life. Vaccines impair the body’s immune responses and brain development and predispose children to chronic ill-health.

    • I have so far decided to leave my child to build natural immunity. I was not vaccinated myself (except for those required for school – just tetanus where I was; and later some for travelling) – so you are preaching to the converted, somewhat, here :) It is funny that you were the first one to draw the line between what I was saying and the conclusion that therefore there would be a less pressing need for vaccinations. I actually thought I might be in for a ‘great vaccination debate’ with this post – not that that was my intention, I am very much a ‘live and let live’ or ‘vaccinate or don’t vaccinate but make your choice from love, not fear and based on information rather than blind-faith’ – and that very much goes for both sides. Anyway, yes, well spotted.

      I had never heard ‘the mumps now – less likely ovarian cancer later’ info. Interesting… Do you have a citation or link for that? Would love to find out more. Cheers.


  5. Hello, thanks for this post. It is actually something that my friend, a Naturopath and mother, and myself have discussed on a few occasions – that our concept of ‘disease’ as being bad or at least having no ‘other function’ other than to take our bodies as hosts – is a Western concept – and perhaps there is more to dis-ease than something than needs to be fixed.

    I have heard about a study that looked at Children’s art works before and after Chicken pox – and the conclusions were that there was definately development jumps in terms of art concepts like perspective etc after having Chicken pox. I just tried to find the studies on line but could not….so sorry i cant back it up – and a bit vague – but I have heard about this idea before.

    My son is 22 months and so far I cant share any personal stories about what I have witnessed with him following an illness. But I do believe there is something to it for sure!
    What an amazing thing is the human body!
    It would be great if I could find those studies…..

  6. I have seen it several times and am convinced it is how the brain is meant to develop, it isn’t always serious and often doesn’t last long, but every time she has a fever she has a leap. Every single time. Some of them are like she’s been in the Matrix, they are that full on.

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