The Meaning of Childhood Illness

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By: Dr. med. Olaf Koob

We all know that certain types of illness occur at different stages of life. We accept as natural the rheu­matism of the elderly, and stress-related heart disease of the middle years. For some reason, though, we no longer com­prehend the so-called children's illnesses, nor do we accept the fact that the begin­ning of life can be beset by physical crises. A few considerations may help solve the mystery of illness at the beginning of life.

It helps to regard the illnesses of youth and of the elderly as polarities. In childhood crises acute fevers, external inflammations and contagion predomi­nate, while in later years chronic harden­ing or deteriorating illnesses prevail, of­ten lurking deep within. There is the duality of body and soul. The harmonious coexistence of these, one within the other, is the basis of health. The newborn child is given an inherited physical body, placed at its disposal by its parents. To a certain extent body (earth) and soul (heaven) must be made to fit each other, and this struggle helps explain the acute, feverish illnesses at the beginning of life. Fever is a means of purifying the solid physical, making it more malleable for the individuality that is seeking to per­sonalize it. It causes change and renewal right down to the cellular level. What is old or hardened is dissolved away and forces of resistance are honed, which in later life, can help guard against intruders such as bacteria and viruses. The indi­viduality needs warmth in order to grow and develop and is intensively involved in the event of the fever.

The skin is a cleansing organ and a mirror of physical/organic and emotional states. Through the skin the body casts out what it rejects in its interior spaces. Rash or redness always indicates heightened circulation and metabolism in the process of "reorganizing" the body.

The illness is the end event of a period of development, an expression of overcoming or casting off a piece of childhood.

During the first seven years children are most busy with their physical bodies -transforming and developing the inher­ited "model". 1 They are completely absorbed by their physical environment, imitating everything, down to their me­tabolism. Infectious illnesses are conta­gious because they are "imitated" by a body that has not yet quite been mastered by the soul. The stronger the individual becomes, the less the external world is imitated, and the danger of contagion becomes less. Fear, when the individual withdraws, or becomes weakened, greatly increases the risk of contagion .2

Children's illnesses modify the body and make it more akin to the individuality inhabiting it. There is now greater com­patibility between the outer person (body) and the inner person (soul/spirit). The child becomes more stable, more enclosed. The fire/fever process sweeps away in­herent weaknesses, chronic colds, bed wetting, psychic problems - even, mother can attest to this. Symptoms should not always should be suppressed because often they will recur later in different or more aggravated form. Childhood ill­nesses warn us, whether we are parents or physicians, to take the language of the body and soul seriously and not to hinder what wants to express itself in a crisis of the body. An illness, overcome correctly, will lead to health in adulthood, for the battle of our spirit with our physical al­ways leads to increased strength.

1. R. Steiner

2. Paracelsus

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