Starting school

How your child settles at school may depend on his or her homeopathic type. Jenifer Worden discusses six medicines which may help and advises on how to tackle some of the physical ailments reception children face

Every parent must dread the first day of school; we do our best to make it sound so exciting and yet in our hearts, even the calmest of us worry about how our child will cope. I was lucky that both of my children settled in very well to their reception class at primary school but I well remember my daughter going through a spell of crying at her play group when I left her to go to work at the GP practice next door.  I hated walking out of the door, having disentangled her little fingers from my coat and hearing her cry, “Mummy, don’t go!” The fact that she apparently stopped her tears almost the minute I walked out of the door did not help me feel any better about leaving her and certainly did not make me enjoy my morning surgery. Fortunately, after a very short time, she reverted to her normal cheery self when I left and is now a confident 17 year-old who assures me that she never misses me when she is away on school trips. I miss her, but smile as I wave her off!

So what problems can our children face when they start school and what can we do to help them? There are the physical, such as coughs and colds, head lice (nits) and threadworms, and the psycho logical, such as negative behavioural problems including biting others, temper tantrums, refusal to make friends and toileting and sleep disturbances.

I would emphasise that the majority of children settle into school perfectly well and that the teaching staff are very experienced in helping even the most unwilling little one to join in the fun.  Parents can help by ensuring that their child is used to being away from them for a little time prior to that important first day, whether it is time spent with grandparents or other relatives, or in a pre-school or nursery. Children have a natural separation anxiety around 18 months to two years when they can be very unhappy to leave either parent but will normally pass through this stage as part of their normal development.

If they have never spent some time apart from a parent or carer prior to starting at school, then settling into a classroom of 25 other children without Mummy or Daddy nearby is going to be difficult. If, however, you do run into problems, there are homeopathic medicines to get your child back into the swing of things. I will discuss the psychological problems first, in terms of how each homeopathic remedy picture will show itself in your child’s behaviour, and will finish by mentioning homeopathic medications for the physical problems.

Not every child will fit into one of the following remedies but I have given the six most common medications that I use in my practice. It is always best to treat the child as a whole when looking at psychological or behavioural problems and this is where seeing a homeopathically qualified healthcare professional can be so helpful for parents and carers. It can be very difficult to analyse your own child at times and an independent view on matters can always help. I had my daughter down as a Pulsatilla for ages when in fact she was much more of a Phosphorus but it took a consultation with a medical colleague for me to realise this.

Calcarea carbonica

Typically, the child who needs Calcarea carbonica will be the type who takes some time to learn, with poor recall and often reaching their developmental milestones, such as walking and talking, later than other children. They may spend some time on a task, such as a jigsaw or other puzzle, and may do the same puzzle again and again, showing patience and a methodical nature. Some Calcarea carbonica children can be very clever but be misjudged academically as they take so much time to gain the information they need. If interrupted, they can be very obstinate and do not like changing their plans. They like to categorise and to complete tasks and can sustain a temper tantrum for some time if thwarted in doing this. Such children can be strong characters and it is a brave adult or child who tries to outstare them!

Because of this obsession with finishing a task and their methodical nature, they can be loners at school and may become sad and withdrawn if they do not make friends quickly. This aspect of their character emphasises their many natural fears which include the dark and insects; not the child to tell a scary story to unless you want to be up in the night dealing with an upset, clingy youngster after the inevitable nightmare. They tend to be too hot at night, throwing their covers off, and also prone to sleepwalking. Calcarea carbonica children tend to suffer from frequent catarrhal conditions, such as coughs and colds and middle ear infections. They like starchy food but often dislike slimy food or milk. They are prone to constipation but can have diarrhoea after drinking milk.

Should this sound like your child and they are having problems settling into school, try a 30c dose daily for a week or so. As a homeopathic GP, I tend to prescribe a “one-off” dose of three tablets, 200c 12-hourly but would suggest this higher dose is only used after advice from a homeopathic healthcare professional.

Pulsatilla

In contrast to Calcarea carbonica, the Pulsatilla child is gentler and more clingy and fearful. They often stay close to their parent or carer in the consulting room and although they may want to play with a particular toy, will only do so if Mum or Dad sits on the floor with them. They have a core weakness that makes them sensitive to a perceived possible abandonment by a parent and this sensitivity can play a major role in the child’s psychological make-up.

Pulsatilla children are often shy and cry easily, often needing to be held when upset in order to avoid continuous tears. They can be very reserved in new environments, such as a classroom, but become sociable when their confidence returns, or if they are befriended by another child and led to join in with the others. Although quiet in a formal meeting, in their home environment they will chat away unless someone has upset them. If this is so, they will mope and cry.

They are excellent at finding the right behaviour to get what they want from an adult or another child as, psychologically, this gives them the attention and security that they crave. The situation that can break this submissive mode and willingness to please is the birth of a sibling, when the older child can feel left out and unloved. At this stage, the Pulsatilla child can demonstrate jealousy, irritability (particularly with aggression towards the new baby), obstinacy, regression to more childlike behaviours (such as bed wetting when previously dry) and a tendency to develop physical symptoms such as tummy pains and headaches.

Feeling a loss of their security can also happen with the start of school; they can compensate by being incredibly helpful at school but turning into a different, and angrier, child at home, blaming the parents for sending them away from the home environment.

Sympathy always helps the Pulsatilla child. Like the Calcarea carbonica child, they suffer from chesty coughs and colds and middle ear infections. They love foods containing fats, such as pastry and ice cream and have to be encouraged to drink – the camel of the homeopathic world.

Natrum muriaticum

Neatness and tidiness is a result of the Pulsatilla child’s desire to please, whereas the Natrum muriaticum child is driven to keep their toys and room tidy. They are usually nicely dressed and these children sit confidently in the corner of my room, playing quietly with the toy box or engrossed with a picture book whilst their parents talk to me. They are often very polite and a little reserved. It can be difficult to hear their answers to my questions as they are not the type to shout and this can cause problems with making friends at school.

They tend to have a few good friends and can lack confidence in groups, which makes team games a chore. Although calm on the outside, they are incredibly emotional on the inside, being sensitive to criticism and hating to make mistakes, for fear of others laughing at them. Unlike the Pulsatilla child, the Natrum muriaticum youngster does not cry easily and can often only do so alone. Putting an arm around them in sympathy only makes them cry harder. They choose activities which they can do on their own, such as reading, and can make the family pet or neighbours’ pet their “best friend”.

You can see how starting school can be laid with pitfalls for the sensitive and uncertain Natrum muriaticum child unless they already have a friend in the same class. Although Natrum muriaticum is not a remedy associated with angry outbursts, they can bear a grudge and can do so for some time! Quietly addressing their fears of not being good enough can go a long way to helping these little ones find their place in the class. It can then be possible to avoid the headaches and skin problems, such as eczema, that can plague such children.

Sulphur

The Sulphur child can be all over the place in the surgery and is usually the most active in the consulting room. Paul Herscu, a prominent US homeopath, who has written several excellent books on the homeopathic treatment of children, talks about four types of Sulphur children: the happy-go-lucky, who are exuberant “show offs” and are natural leaders of groups, hating subordinate roles; the irritable, who are nasty and negative and are the rarest type of Sulphur; the hyperactive, who are the ones who break the rules and are messy, not caring about what people think of them; and the cerebral, who are like a messy Natrum muriaticum.

Sulphur children can be very intelligent and independent, not always the easiest qualities in a four or five year old starting school, when a teacher is trying to encourage compliance! Unlike the Natrum muriaticum, Sulphur children are not the smartest of dressers, not being bothered by wearing matching socks and also careless with their possessions. Put labels in everything a Sulphur child owns or it may go “walkabout”! Sulphur kids prefer to socialise rather than do class work, which again can cause discipline problems, especially as they can appear quite indifferent to reprimand. They have little need for sleep and often have excess energy before bedtime, which is probably why I have more consultations for behaviour problems with such children than any other group. Physically, they can suffer from infected eczema and problems with loose bowel movements.

Phosphorus

Another group of children who can be sociable and pleasant to deal with are those responding to Phosphorus. They are well-mannered and expressive. Initially shy, they soon gain their confidence and are able to talk to everyone easily. They like to be the centre of attention and occasionally can appear precocious with their dealings with adults. Their enthusiasm can sometimes spill over into severe anticipation, with symptoms resulting from excitement. Concentration can sometimes suffer as a result.

Like Pulsatilla, they can weep easily and are probably the most fearful of all the children discussed in this article. The dark, thunderstorms and monsters or ghosts are the most notable of their common fears. Such fears often lead them to complain of nausea or tummy aches. Nightmares as a result of an overactive imagination are common and they often need the comfort of a parent in the room to fall asleep. If in a situation they feel comfortable with, they can be real performers and it is no coincidence that this is the remedy often suiting actors and artists. Unlike Pulsatilla, these children love cold drinks and will suck ice cubes for pleasure!

Tuberculinum bovum

My final emotional remedy is Tuberculinum bovum. It has links with hyperactivity and intelligence and has some features of Sulphur. I have found it a very useful medication where there is an element of mischievousness, such as encouraging another child to do something naughty then acting the innocent and therefore avoiding any blame.

Children doing well with this remedy are often slim in build and pale complexioned with long eyelashes. They can have poor concentration and do not like strangers or new situations, so one can see why starting school so often can worsen their behaviour and cause problems both with teachers and carers. They can be phenomenally restless, even at night, and are said to grind their teeth in their sleep. The toy box gets emptied out in a flash but each toy only played with for a short time before moving on to the next. Such children can be irritable and contrariness can result. Despite their energy, they dislike being alone and also animals. Wetting the bed can be a common problem.

Physical ailments

With regards to the physical problems due to starting school, recurrent coughs and colds must be the most troublesome. Every community develops its own immunity and, for most small children, this is usually just the people they live with and possibly some close relatives or their childminder. When they start school, they meet all sorts of viruses which they are not immune from. This is why they seem to have continual colds in reception class and also to suffer more with each infection than previously.
Most schoolchildren under the age of seven will have up to eight colds or upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) per year, each lasting four to six weeks and three of which will be severe enough to need some time at home. Fluids and conventional medications such as ibuprofen or paracetamol syrup are fine to relieve a high temperature (more than 38°C) but mild fevers will do your child no harm. Constitutional remedies based on their personality and general symptoms are probably the best way to treat a child who is becoming run down with recurrent infections.

A high temperature without any specific symptoms can be treated with Belladonna 30c four to six hourly as needed, or Aconite (at the same dose) if the symptoms come on rapidly with a sore throat and thirst for drinks. Spongia can be used for croupy coughs or Ipecacuanha for a cough with spasms so severe that the child ends up vomiting.

Threadworms and head lice

I am often asked if there is a homeopathic cure for those two common infestations, threadworms and head lice. Although Cina is often cited in older homeopathic books as being effective against worms, I think that the modern conventional treatments, such as piperazine, are more reliable.

As having head lice is not an illness and the lice do not cause any disturbance to the body as such, one would not expect homeopathic medicines to work against them. The time-consuming method of using a nit comb to comb through the hair after shampooing and then applying conditioner, which damages the eggs and removes the adult lice, and repeating the treatment every other day until at least two washes without any wild life apparent is still the most efficient way of getting rid of these pests.

There are insecticidal shampoos but resistance is building up to these and they are becoming less effective, so I try to steer clear of them unless absolutely necessary. It can be difficult if your child’s best friend does not have such methodical parents, as this can mean your child keeps getting reinfected, but the summer holidays arrive eventually and this usually sorts the problem out in my experience.

Jenifer Worden MB ChB MRCGP MFHom is a part-time NHS GP in Ringwood, Hampshire and has a private homeopathic practice in Highcliffe, Dorset. She treats patients with a wide range of conditions and across the complete age range.