To keep his asthma under control, your child takes his medication every day and stays away from triggers such as dust, pollen, and cat and dog dander. But studies have shown that using mind-body techniques to get your child to relax also can reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. "The anxiety caused by not being able to get a deep breath can make it even more difficult to breathe," Culbert says.
"We've found yoga to be very beneficial, especially in teaching the sort of deep abdominal breathing we want children with asthma to use," Culbert says. He recommends the YogaKids video series.
In a 2004 study at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, New Jersey, adult patients using biofeedback needed less medication and had fewer symptoms and better lung function. Culbert says that biofeedback is good for kids ages six and older too. Here's how it works: In weekly sessions, biofeedback machines pick up on activity in the body and display it visually on a screen. Patients can then use that information to try to control their physical reactions. For example, an asthmatic child may see a black-and-white picture of a forest on the screen, and as she relaxes, bringing her heart rate and breathing under control, it fills in with color. A biofeedback practitioner teaches her the relaxation exercises, and the child can use these techniques during real-life situations. Sessions may cost from $50 to $200 and are often covered by insurance. To find a certified practitioner, check out the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America's listings.
Migraine headaches often run in families. Food or stressful situations may be triggers, but the cause can be difficult to pinpoint. And for kids with chronic or severe migraines, pain medications may not give complete relief, so mind-body relaxation techniques can help here as well.
This Chinese remedy involves a practitioner inserting ultrafine needles into specified points on the skin, releasing endorphins and reducing the perception of pain. In a 2000 study on teenagers with chronic pain problems (some suffered from migraines), 70 percent said that acupuncture definitely helped their pain, and 67 percent found it a pleasant experience. Acupuncture is appropriate for ages five and up, but if a child is too squeamish, Culbert says, she can first try acupressure, which involves using finger pressure on various points.
More than 20 studies using biofeedback to combat headaches in kids have been published in the past 30 years. And most have shown significant improvement—at least a 50 percent reduction in pain—for the majority of study participants, according to a published review by Kathi Kemper, MD, author of The Holistic Pediatrician.