Is your child naturally quick or slow? Laid back or competitive? Intuitive or methodical? When it comes to children, you can't change their essential nature—but as a parent, you can learn how to understand them better and help them grow to their full potential.
In Ayurveda, a traditional health system, your child's tendencies and preferences are reflections of different body types. And the latest understanding of brain development gives valuable insights into what your child is capable of at different ages. The two together—ancient wisdom and modern neuroscience—define brain/body types.
As I explain in my new book, Dharma Parenting: Understand Your Child's Brilliant Brain for Greater Happiness, Health, Success, and Fulfillment, knowing your child's brain/body type can help you anticipate and adapt to their needs and keep them in balance so they can grow to meet life's challenges. Here's what you need to know about the three different types:
How to determine your child's brain/body type
1. The Vata brain/body type is like the wind—always moving and changing.
It is sensitive, restless, and creative. This type processes information very quickly and also tends to switch attention very rapidly. This means that the Vata child is a fast learner, interested in many things, but is also easily overwhelmed with too much information. They are easily distracted, especially if they're out of balance, so they may lose their focus and make mistakes or wander off before they finish a task.
2. The Pitta brain/body type is like fire—brilliant and warm.
This type is dynamic, strong-willed, and inquisitive. The Pitta brain's executive system processes information easily while at the same time focusing on details. Emotionally, the Pitta child's warmth can manifest as warmheartedness and compassion—or, if the Pitta gets inflamed, as anger.
3. The Kapha brain/body type is like the earth—steady and supportive.
It is calm, steady, and kind. This type processes information more slowly but is extremely reliable and accurate. Kaphas are slow learners but at the same time their thinking is very methodical and steady. They are also the most emotionally stable type and enjoy supporting and helping the people around them.
What to feed your children, based on their type:
All children need the full range of proteins, essential fatty acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. But there are also ways to optimize your child's diet based on their unique type:
Vata brain/body types have a variable appetite. Keep your Vata child in balance with foods that are warm, comforting, and easy to digest: nourishing soups and stews, hot cereals, hearty grains, wholesome beverages. They should avoid raw vegetables and crisp, dry foods such as popcorn or potato chips.
A Vata type's digestion is often not very strong, so they should eat dinner at least two or three hours before bed. Otherwise, their metabolism will stay high because they're still digesting dinner, and this may keep them from falling asleep.
These types have very strong appetites. Keep their inner dragon quiet by making sure meals and snacks are plentiful and on time. Cool foods and beverages help control that inner heat. Pitta types have strong digestion, so they can eat the heavier foods that other types have to avoid: pasta and mashed potatoes, for example. Try to avoid hot spices. If you're eating out, Italian or Chinese is a better choice than Mexican or Thai.
These types have strong appetites, but (unlike their Pitta siblings) they can eat late or even skip a meal. They really enjoy their food, so be alert that they don't overeat. Kapha's solid nature is balanced by eating spicy foods and light, dry foods. They should avoid cold foods such as ice cream as well as heavy foods such as mashed potatoes, yogurt, and butter.
What should you do if your children all have different brain/body types?
You really can't prepare three separate meals for them. First, think about the weather: If it's windy and cold, everyone will need some warm comfort food such as whole-grain pasta, baked potatoes and vegetables, and warm pudding for dessert. If there's a cold spring rainstorm, maintain balance with warm, light, and spicy foods: hot soup, enchiladas, ginger cookies. High noon in the summer demands cooling foods: gazpacho soup, lemonade, fresh fruit for dessert.
Next, consider whether one child is under a little more pressure than the others. Is there a dance recital, math test, or important ballgame tomorrow? Or maybe one child is fighting off a cold? Those extra demands make them more vulnerable, so choose a menu that supports that child's brain/body type for a couple of days.
How to find a bedtime routine based on your child's type:
These types are sensitive and easily overstimulated by high-energy movies and video games. Turn off all videos one hour before bedtime.
More than any other type, Vatas need a solid routine at bedtime. Begin early with a warm, soothing bath; use Vata pacifying aroma oils; read an uplifting and calming story; play soft music. Do everything you can to create a quiet and enticing environment before you even try to get your Vata child to sleep.
These types find it much easier to go to sleep than Vatas do. They enjoy physical activity, and if they have been busy during the day, they usually fall asleep easily.
The only problem may be that their active intellect may want to figure out how the entire universe functions before they close their eyes. So stop any intense TV, games, and schoolwork well before bedtime, or they may wake up full of energy in the middle of the night.
One technique that works well is to tell the Pitta child a long, involved, tedious bedtime story in which almost nothing happens. This captures their attention but gives nothing for their lively mind to engage with, so they can settle down to sleep.
Sleep is this type's best friend. They fall asleep easily and have a far better chance of sleeping through the night than the other types. They usually continue with naps a little later than their friends do.
One problem with this type is getting them up in the morning. Entice them out of that warm, comfy bed with a yummy breakfast or a fun activity. Kapha types love to help, so try asking them to help you cook that yummy breakfast.