As the October days pass by and our anticipation for a change of seasons grows, the message of the rhythm of nature and a year of four seasons that has governed the world since the great Flood in the days of Noach (Malbim, Parashas Noach) rings as true as ever. So much of our daily lives are directly influenced by the season of the year, reminding us of the centrality of nature in our existence.
We get so caught up in our material pursuits and technology on one hand and even our higher spiritual goals and activities on the other that we tend to lose sight of the basics that govern our well-being. How well we eat, how much sleep we get, how we exercise and live in moderation frequently get overlooked when we have a problem and are seeking a solution. Before we seek modern-day technological and scientific devices and methodologies to solve a problem, even before we investigate the spiritual underpinnings, we need to go back to the basics. If we neglect our bodies’ needs on a regular basis, then medication or surgery may become necessary, but a shift in habit could possibly have pre-empted or solved the problem much sooner and much simpler.
The same holds true to an even greater degree in dealing with children. When a child has a difficulty in learning, classroom behavior, getting along with peers, or lacks motivation, all of the experts wisely present different possibilities to explain and solve the problem. The educator will look for an educational deficiency, the psychologist will explore a possible behavioral abnormality, the psychiatrist will search for a chemical imbalance, the neurologist will analyze brain function and the endocrinologist will examine any imbalance of the hormones and metabolism. But there is a `step one’ before all this, and that is to examine the basics of human well-being. Is your child getting enough sleep? Is there a healthy, productive routine of play, homework, supper, bathing and bedtime? Does your child eat a balanced meal each evening? What food do you send with him or her to school? What, when and how many sugary snacks are included? (Hopefully not more than 1 a day) It is hard to overstate the benefits to a child of a healthy, stable eating and sleeping regimen. Many children who develop learning issues start out with good potential to learn, but poor study habits, insufficient sleep and unhealthy diets keep them from progressing with their classmates. These factors cause inconsistent class participation and incomplete homework and studying, which derails any efforts they make and magnifies any weakness they may have, until there is a major problem.
When a problem exists despite these routines being under proper control, the next step is to look for physical causes, before any cognitive or psychological reasons for difficulty in school. Check your child’s vision, hearing, overall health, manual dexterity and sensory issues first. These potential causes must be ruled out before exploring any other learning or behaviorally based causes. Once you’ve reached this point and the difficulties persist, then it is the appropriate time to enlist the other experts in helping your child.
In truth, most problems won’t be solved by cutting out sugar etc., but a significant number can be greatly minimized through getting back to basics. There may be many impediments that parents face in providing a loving, nurturing, calm and stable environment that are beyond their control, but virtually everyone can show respect for the natural order that Hashem implanted into our world and take proper care of their child’s healthy well-being. The additional success they’ll find in school as a result may pleasantly surprise you.
Have a healthy, restful and wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann