A new lens for understanding health and wellness
To improve a child's health, we have to address the concerns and desires of the entire family. After all, children are not the ones going to the grocery store, preparing meals, deciding where to live and making other decisions that affect their health. That's why the Alliance is using a family well-being model in our work. While the traditional approach to health and wellness involves bringing in outside "experts" to administer programs, the family well-being approach brings the family into the process from the beginning. This empowers families and challenges them to create their own solutions.
When you ask families to talk about health and wellness, they very rarely mention medical care or physical health. Instead, they talk about their family's overall well-being. They talk about self-sufficiency. They talk about their shared aspirations. In fact, we've discovered that there are five elements of well-being:
Families tend to have one of two outlooks that shape their decision-making and behaviors around healthcare. Parents with a reactive mindset react to each health issue or crisis based on convenience and ability. Those with a proactive mindset are able see a longer-term horizon and understand the implications of short-term decisions. This mindset also generates preventative care.
“Power” pertains to a parent’s own behaviors, as well as their child’s. Parents with a protective mindset try to limit their child’s exposure to stress and withhold responsibilities and key information from their children in honor of childhood. This leaves children with limited, to no understanding about their health or how to provide self-care. Parents with an exploratory mindset give their children increasing autonomy, empowering them. This mindset gives parents and children a sense of personal power.
Parents need a diverse support system to provide care for their children: school, after-school programs, community centers and other family members. Families with a weak support system are not only resource-constrained, their children also lack access to role models, information and safe spaces to explore healthy habits beyond the home. Peer pressure can lead kids to adopt unhealthy behaviors or attitudes. Those with a strong support network feel supported, and their children are exposed to different viewpoints, often providing inspiration and motivation to make different decisions.
A child’s sense of self provides a foundation for who they are, who they want to be, and life priorities. With unstable health habits and values, it’s hard for kids to internalize the value of making healthy choices. Children who haven’t built a stable sense of self are more susceptible to negative influences. Parents who value health as an important part of who they are strive to teach it to their kids. Stable healthy habits are transferred between generations.
Parents and kids are responsible for accessing information about health conditions from a variety of sources, interpreting it, making meaning from it, and sharing it with others. If this communication flow is connected and goes smoothly, everyone involved in the child’s care is informed and can act accordingly. Those with disconnected and disrupted knowledge will have challenges in addressing health issues and well-being.