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Pediatrics and Chinese Medicine

Updated: Jul 2

If you have children, you are probably familiar with the mental, physical, and emotional rollercoaster that raising them can elicit. For the most part, we (parents) do an exceptional job at providing what our little ones need, but there are always those oddities that throw us for a loop. Often the first response is to default to what we know has worked in the past. When this fails, we consult a friend, family member, or the Internet. A trusted medical provider is usually next on the list.

Sometimes an answer is forthcoming and our kids are back to normal quickly. But what happens when the answers are not easily found? We feel like we are hitting our heads against a wall--doing the same thing without a result. At times such as these we must change our paradigm---our methodology--in order to create change. This is where looking at things through the lens Chinese Medicine can help.

Chinese Medicine and Pediatrics

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a long history of successfully treating kids. For over 5,000 years, the Chinese have been refining their understanding of the human body and how best to interact with it. Using acupuncture, herbs, massage, diet, exercise, and environmental modifications, TCM helps restore balance and promote healing. The power of TCM lies in it's observational roots--millions of iterations over thousands of years. The Chinese categorized the multitude of signs and symptoms associated with disease into more cohesive patterns instead of trying to treat each one individually. This produced a system of medicine that is unique from what most of us (Westerners) are used to.


In pediatrics, TCM seeks to understand children using both constitution (what each child is like) and developmental stage (where each child is at in their life). There are five main constitutions which correspond to the Five Elements (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal). For instance, if a child has a Fire constitution, they typically run hot, may get fevers easily, and might be prone to skin rashes. These "heat signs" form a constellation that sets the foundation for how a practitioner will begin to treat them. The information gained here is then weighed with the specifics of their development.

Developmental Stage

When children are first born they are in their Water stage, which is characterized by the emotion of fear, namely the fear of abandonment. Their primary concerns are survival and regulation of bodily functions. Next comes the Wood stage (ages 3 to 7), in which children are learning to manage their temperament and navigate personal autonomy. From age 7 to 14 children are in their Fire stage in which they are working to better understand their emotions and social dynamics. The transition from Fire into the Earth phase (age 14 to 21) is wrought with passion, rebellion, and personal development. The Earth stage ends when they reach adulthood--the Metal phase. For the most part their personalities are done developing at this point.

Treatment Strategies

A skilled TCM pediatric practitioner takes into account a child's constitution in combination with their developmental stage to best design treatments. A Fire type child who is in their Wood stage will tend to get Wind-Heat invasions easily. This means that herbal formulas and point selections will be geared towards clearing heat and tonifying the Heart (Fire) via the Liver (Wood).

For children nine years and younger, we utilize a Japanese form of manual stimulation on the child's skin called Shonishin. For older children who can sit still for longer than five minutes, we use the smallest needles possible. Formulas for children are typically administered in powdered form for infants, liquid form for young children, and whatever older kids are willing to take. Dosages are gauged based on weight.

Breadth of Reach

TCM has a remarkably large reach for helping pediatric conditions. It can effectively treat early stage infections before they reach the point of needing antibiotics and regulate other systems that might otherwise go untreated until something more severe occurs. Here is a short list of the different areas that parents may consider using TCM:

  • bed wetting

  • behavioral problems

  • poor sleep

  • indigestion/colic

  • infections (of all types)

  • pain

  • cough

  • asthma

  • eczema

  • allergies

Further Reading

Pediatric Acupuncture. May Loo, MD.

Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine. Beinfield and Korngold.

The Web That Has No Weaver. Ted Kaptchuk.

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