Nature’s Principles for Whole Parenting
The concept of chi, or vital life energy, is central to traditional East Asian philosophy and medicine. Chi is the life force that infuses all living things, and the yin-yang balance of chi is necessary for their healthy functioning. This invisible force, or energy, is nature’s intelligence.
Chi does not require a central nervous system or a brain. Human intelligence is based on the mind’s ability to question, think, analyze, and hypothesize. On the other hand, nature’s intelligence is based on inherent balance, which it is always seeking. Chi permeates every living thing and is all encompassing. It is generous and abundant, and it supports your baby’s individual growth and development with ongoing natural healing energy. For instance, your baby’s body knows how to heal an upset stomach or a skinned knee because its natural intelligence seeks wholeness and balance.
As a parent, you instinctively know and understand your baby and his tempo. When you hold him, your innate sense is to carry him close to your body, and he instinctively knows to root and to drink his mother’s milk without instructions. His heartbeat, the inhale and exhale of his breath, and all of his biological functions occur rhythmically and naturally. When he is born, he knows how to grow and learn through his natural curiosity and innate developmental process.
I have been influenced by the traditional Japanese view of living in harmony with nature. The principles of nature and the theory of yin and yang have been very helpful in my personal and professional life, and in supporting my children’s ability to regulate themselves. I studied and used these principles in East Asian medicine and in macrobiotics philosophy.
The word “macrobiotics” comes from Greek roots meaning “long life,” reflecting the goal of long-term health. East Asian medicine and macrobiotic philosophy classify yin and yang slightly differently. My intention is to draw from both schools of thought to provide you with simple ways to navigate your child’s growth and development in all areas.
Yin and yang are abstract qualities because they are continually changing and they are relative. However, it is helpful to label something as yin or yang while comparing and developing an understanding of the principles. The yin-yang spectrum is not a dualistic measure of right or wrong. As you observe and think about these principles, you can develop your own understanding and judgment from your experience of how yin and yang work.
They are a set of tools that do not necessarily result in solutions; rather, they open up questions that may lead to the unexpected. If you explore and question with curiosity and play with these concepts without taking them too seriously, then you may discover your own insights of how to use yin and yang to create awareness that helps you understand your child.
According to the universal theory, yin and yang express their qualities in every aspect of life: the natural world, activities, behavior, food, and health. Charts throughout [Grow Healthy. Grow Happy.] include a comparison of different categories on a yin-yang spectrum. You can use these charts along with the principles I discuss, as tools, to observe and understand your baby’s condition, and then you can guide him through food and activities to make adjustments in his physical, mental, and emotional health.
I describe some principles of yin and yang, along with other principles based on nature’s intelligence, which have been most useful to me as a parent. Traditional cultures all over the world have used these principles of nature, and they exist independently of any opinions that people may have. The sun shines, on its own, whether you believe in it or wish for rain. These principles are interrelated, interdependent, and they are foundational to the concepts in [Grow Healthy. Grow Happy.]. I have included examples of how to apply them to assist you in going with the positive flow of nature instead of against it.
The Principle of Complementary Opposites
Both yin and yang are present in all living things, and they exist harmoniously. Specific characteristics have been attributed to opposite poles of a spectrum: yin is calming, yang is energizing; yin is cooling, yang is warming; yin is receptive, yang is active. One cannot exist without the other—day needs night, up needs down, and front needs back in order to have meaning. Pain and pleasure, sadness and joy, fear and security are at different places on the same spectrum. Both polar forces in each of these pairs are essential for your baby’s health, just as he needs both exercise and rest in order to achieve balance.
Your baby is small, compact, and full of yang, or active energy. Meanwhile, he expresses his yin side through his vulnerability and dependency on you. Yin is slower and more sensitive and relaxed. Yang is quicker, more focused and strong.
Yin and yang apply to parents and other caregivers as well as to babies. For example, when you put your baby to sleep, you get in touch with your gentle, yin feeling for him. Organizing and scheduling your life with your baby develops your yang strength to take care of his daily needs. You need both yin and yang attributes to be sensitive and attuned to your child, and to provide a safe environment in which he can be secure.
The Principle of Relativity
Objects and forces develop meaning—and often shift meaning—only when they are compared to other objects and forces. For example, wood is more yang when compared to water, but when compared to metal, wood is more yin. An apple is more yang compared to a banana but more yin compared to a carrot. Your child may be more yin than one friend but more yang than another friend.
People evaluate situations from their perspective, context, and experience. “Everything is relative” refers to each person’s point of view. For instance, you may be ready for your child to go to bed, while he may be energetic and in the mood to play. You and your partner may have different ideas about how to discipline your child based on your respective family histories.
The Principle of Magnetic Attraction
Yin and yang attract and repel each other the way two magnets do. Opposites attract, and likes repel. According to the law of attraction, masculine attracts feminine, an empty stomach seeks to be filled, the heat of a summer day stimulates an urge for something cooling, and activity attracts the need for rest.
Throughout a day, your baby moves from one situation to another as his needs are met, and then they are satisfied—attracting and being attracted to people, food, warmth, and other sources of stimulation. He is hungry, and so he eats; he is full, and then he poops; he is restless, and so he moves; he is tired, and so he sleeps; he cries and wants to be held, and then he becomes satisfied and calm with your nurturing, from one attraction to another.
The Principle of Interrelatedness
Everything in the natural world is connected. The yin-yang symbol shows the interrelatedness of yin and yang, with the small dot of color within the white area and the small dot of white within the colored area. A bit of each quality’s opposite exists in everything. Ecosystems are an example of this interrelationship in nature. Every ecosystem has producers, consumers, decomposers, and scavengers. If something is added or removed, then the rest of the system adjusts to accommodate and to create balance, if possible.
Likewise, your baby is an ecosystem. His body’s systems, brain, and emotions interconnect, work together, and affect each other. According to East Asian medicine and philosophy, the body is a whole with interconnecting parts. Exercise affects your baby’s emotions and brain development, while his emotions affect his physical condition. He is also a part of larger ecosystems such as your family, your community, your culture, and the natural environment.
The Principle of Conservation
Animals, plants, and natural resources are limited, and they need conscious attention to prevent them from being depleted. As a parent, you experience the limitations in your family’s ecosystem of time, energy, and money, and you recognize the need to conserve these resources every day. To conserve your resources, you need to take care and save some of them for times of unexpected need.
The Principle of Stability within Change
The universe is in a state of constant motion and change; never static, it goes through transitions and transformations. The colors of the rainbow fade into each other without clear definition or separation. When yin and yang become out of balance, they affect each other, change proportion, and move to a new balance. Because of the constant change, nothing is completely yin or completely yang. Your baby moves from happy to sad, from clean to dirty, from tired to alert, from healthy to sick, and back again.
Within change are continuity and stability. Even though your child goes through a great deal of transformation in his first three years, he is the same person. His basic constitution, personality, and behavior remain constant and give him a sense of identity.
Which characteristics of your child are likely to endure, and which are likely to change? The stability of your love and support, as well as daily routines, give your child the security and comfort he needs to feel free to explore and learn. Resilience—the ability to be both strong and flexible helps both you and your baby balance change and stability.
Constant change is the only absolute in life—and in parenting. [Grow Healthy. Grow Happy.] offers guidance to help you understand and support your baby’s cycles for his first three years so that you can nurture him toward stability and balance through his changes.
Your baby responds to external stimuli by making adjustments that guide him toward equilibrium. Balance is not a permanent state. Your baby reaches out and explores, then returns back to center, like coming home to his essence. The food he eats, his activities, and the environment he lives in all play a role in establishing his balance. When he consumes something cold, the body works to heat the food or drink so that it reaches his body temperature before he can digest it. If he is angry or upset, then he seeks your comforting and soothing, which allow him to relax and to achieve emotional balance.
Homeostasis is a dynamic state that the body maintains through continuous adjustments. When your baby’s balance is strained by extremes, he requires adjustments to maintain his balance. If the input becomes too extreme, he could reach the point of overload, with irreparable consequences.
You can either reduce the excessive influence or increase the deficient influence in order to support your child’s balance. If you ask the question, “Does my child need more or less yin or yang to restore his balance?” then you can help him make adjustments by encouraging him to raise or to lower his state.
You can also help him restore his balance by feeding him nourishing foods, offering emotional support, or engaging in activities that are moderate on both sides of the yin-yang spectrum, thus reducing the seesaw of alternating extremes. Your child’s tastes tell you what he craves and is attracted to. You can help guide him to regulate his state toward balance by adding or subtracting yin or yang influences or by providing moderation to help him maintain an even flow with minimal stress and strain.
The Principle of Uniqueness
Every person is unique. There is some degree of distinction, no matter how subtle, in each and every thing. Every baby, like every snowflake or autumn leaf, is unique. Your child is an individual with his own needs and gifts, and he came to be who he is by a unique chain of events and circumstances.
Birth order of children within a family affects how each child experiences the world. Genes, gender, geographic region, environmental factors, and the seasons of pregnancy and birth add other dimensions to your child’s identity. Every baby has his own essence or spirit that holds the seed of his being and potential.
If you insist that your child participate in team sports when he does not enjoy competition, or force a shy reader to perform in a theater troupe, you can suppress your child’s innate sense of self. If you project unfulfilled personal dreams onto your child, it will be a challenge for him to grow into his true self. Instead, by paying close attention to your baby as he grows—as he watches, senses, touches, and listens—you can discover who your baby is and what he needs in order to become and to express his unique self.
The Principle of Cycles of Growth
All of nature shares the life cycles of birth, growth, harvest, and rest. In East Asian medicine, nature has five distinct cycles of change. Winter is a time of hibernation and rest. Spring brings birth and regeneration. Summer supports growth and activity. Late summer is a transition from the peak of summer to the seeds of new beginnings. Autumn becomes cooler again, with harvested crops and changing leaves that signal a transition back to the coldness and quietness of winter. This cycle goes on continuously and involves transformation from beginning to end and back again.
Your child’s development is an example of cycles of growth. It may seem as if diapering and sleepless nights will go on forever, but they are part of a cycle in your baby’s life that will pass into the next stage of development as he grows. When you watch your baby move through these cycles, you experience the wonders of life.
Mother Nature supports his body with the instinctual knowledge of how to sit up, roll over, crawl, and walk. His brain naturally begins to make connections on its own. When he is one year old, you can take a look at his newborn photos and recognize the changes that happened in a year. Going forward, your baby’s development today will biologically evolve and progress into new challenges and growth for him tomorrow.
The Principle of the Integration of Quantity and Quality
Your baby’s development is a unified process that integrates his physical, emotional, and mental growth. As he grows, he experiences two interrelated kinds of development: quantitative and qualitative.
Quantitative development can be measured in numbers. It includes weight, height, and vocabulary words that you can measure—for example, “He gained four pounds and one inch in the past year.”
Qualitative development relates to the structure or organization of your child’s development. Qualitative changes include starting to crawl or walk and beginning to understand cause and effect. They occur when he shifts from throwing a temper tantrum to listening and being reasonable, or when he acquires a new skill, such as reading independently. Qualitative change is more difficult to measure than quantitative development.
Your child grows by integrating and balancing quantity and quality. Too much of a good thing can have a negative effect—too much exercise can cause exhaustion or eating food that is good quality can be unhealthy, if he eats too much. If he eats low-quality food, he can restore balance by eating high-quality food.
Quantitative measurements of development do not always tell the full story. Perhaps your child can recite all 26 letters of the alphabet, but the memorization of letters—or words, for that matter—has no value if he does not understand the meaning behind them.
In order to communicate through language in an integrated way, your child first learns a number of vocabulary words (quantitative), and then he attaches meaning to them and gains an understanding of how they fit together to make sentences and thoughts (qualitative). He learns to roll over, to crawl, and to walk by integrating individual experiences into a whole.
The Principle of Attention
Your thoughts, feelings, and energy expand and materialize into your reality. Wherever you focus your attention, your life force, or chi, follows and supports you as you grow, positively or negatively. On the positive side, if you emphasize your blessings and achievements, those blessings and achievements multiply. On the negative side, if you concentrate your energy on fears, failures, obstacles, and mistakes, disappointments become your experience.
Like a plant, your baby thrives on your attention and grows from it. When you take care of his needs and spend time interacting with him, he grows and thrives. Attention is his foundation for a secure attachment and for learning. With your attention, he feels secure and calm, and this allows him to focus his energy and to develop his intelligence. He does not need many material things in order to grow and to be happy, but he does need your presence and attention every day.
The Principle of Cause and Effect
The everyday care of your baby requires a seemingly endless series of cause and effect events. For instance, if you hold your baby upright and bounce him, he calms down; if you forget to change his diaper at bedtime, he wakes up earlier than usual. According to the concept of causality, one event produces a reaction, so that there is a relationship between the two events, with a resulting outcome or consequence. A basic principle of nature is to “sow a garden and reap the harvest.”
Cause and effect are not separate, however; they are cyclical. There may be multiple causes for the fact that your baby does not sleep through the night, and these causes may continue for several nights. Observing the flow of your baby’s cycles and patterns and how they interact may give you helpful insight into what influences those cycles. In fact, this strategy may be more effective than looking for an isolated cause or effect.
A parent’s opportunity
The laws and patterns of nature occur on their own through nature’s intelligence, with outcomes that may be significant to your baby, even if you are not aware of them. Your baby’s body maintains homeostasis: he sleeps when he is tired, and he grows, learns, and develops on his own. However, you can intervene, question, and challenge reactive patterns that you have learned to offer intentional choices so that your baby can be free to maximize his potential and live a radiant life. By acknowledging nature’s intelligence and making informed, proactive choices, you can nurture and guide your baby.