The Earth Element

This post is an introduction to some of the key themes related to the Earth Element.  Each child has all of the Five Elements within her and therefore a discussion of the Earth Element is relevant for every child.  However, for some children it will be more relevant than for others.  We are all born with varying innate tendencies, and each child will have areas of life in which they excel and areas they find more challenging.  If having read this post, you feel that your child has an imbalance in their Earth Element, then the suggestions at the bottom will be especially relevant for them.    

Key themes related to the Earth Element 

Needs; nurturing; feeding and food; mother and mothering; caring for oneself; caring for others; study and concentration.

Factors that challenge the healthy development of the Earth Element

Your child may have an imbalance in their Earth Element without having experienced any of the factors described below. We are all born with an innate, constitutional imbalance in one of the Five Elements.

Lack of nurture

The Earth Element is resonant with bodily needs, comforts and securities which are often associated with the home, domesticity and the mother.  Apart from pregnancy, breastfeeding and childbirth, these needs may of course be met by an adult figure of either gender.  

For the Earth Element to become strong, a baby and child require ‘good enough’ mothering.  This is more than simply being given enough food, bathed or being put to bed on time.  A baby is sensitive to whether he is being held tenderly or mechanically.  He can sense if the arms that hold him are offering only vague and disinterested support.  It is the quality, as well as the content, of the mothering he receives that is all important.  And whilst perfection is neither possible nor desirable, the Earth Element requires that nurture is good enough most of the time.  

Smothering/overly dominant mothering

The ultimate role of parents is to bring up a child who is eventually capable of independence.  It sometimes feels a cruel irony that the heart of a mother’s role is to create a child who will eventually want to separate from her.  

Ideally, a mother’s care will be a response to the needs of the child.  Sometimes, however, a mother’s need to care is so strong that it overshadows the needs of the child.  As a child strives for independence, his mother unwittingly discourages this because of her strong need for her child to remain dependent on her.  A child who is not allowed age-appropriate independence, or who feels smothered, will grow up without a clear sense of how to look after his own needs.  This will impede the healthy development of the Earth Element.  When the Earth Element is balanced, a child will develop a good sense of how and when to look after himself, and when to ask for help.  

Lack of a stable home environment

The Earth Element also symbolizes stability.  When strong, it enables a child to feel secure, stable and centred.  The more stable a child’s environment is, the more she is able to internalise this sense of stability.  If a child lives with a sense that life is about to change in some way, it will be difficult for her to remain internally centred and relaxed.  

A child’s security depends above all on strong connections with her family.  But it also extends beyond this to her home and community.  Regularly moving home, or even school, may have a profound effect on a child. 

Worry in the family

One of the emotions associated with the Earth Element is the Chinese word si, which is often translated as ‘worry’ or ‘overthinking’.  If a child is surrounded by worry, she will imbibe this and it will become her own.  Worry is said to ‘knot’ the qi of the Earth Element.  The more this happens, the more a child’s thoughts or worries become stuck, and go around and around in her mind.  

Too much intellectual stimulation

It goes against the grain to describe intellectual thinking as a possible cause of imbalance.  However, in Chinese medicine terms, it is the organs related to the Earth Element (the Stomach and Spleen) that digest, not only food, but also information.  So that means when a child is asked to study, memorise things, concentrate or focus, or even when she reads, it uses a lot of qi from these organs.  The Earth Element in a child, just like all the other Elements, is immature and needs time to develop.  It also has a big job to do because it is responsible for digesting the enormous amount of food a baby or young child must consume relative to her size.  So, if a child is being asked to use her mind a lot at a young age, it can deplete the Earth Element.  

It is interesting to consider that in many countries, for example Germany, children do not start school until the age of 7, as opposed to 4 as is usual in the UK.  From the Chinese medicine perspective, starting school at this later age would be considered far more health-promoting.  By 7 or 8, a child’s Earth Element has matured and become stronger, and so is better able to stand more intellectual strain. 

Manifestations of an imbalanced Earth Element

A tendency to worry

One of the key ways in which an Earth imbalance manifests is a propensity to worry and overthink.  The worry may focus on something that has happened in the family, such as an argument she has overheard between her parents.  She may worry about school the next day because a child was unkind to her and it may happen again.  Older children typically worry a lot around exam time.  The child’s thoughts are liable to go around and around in her head and it may be hard for the parent to find a way of reassuring her.  Things often become worse at bedtime when the qi of the Earth Element is at its weakest. 

Difficulties in finding a balance between dependence and independence

A child whose Earth Element is not strong may have a particular struggle in the following ways:

  • She may find it hard to achieve a level of independence appropriate to her age.  In a young child, this may manifest by routinely becoming upset when she has to separate from her mother at the school gates.   An older child or teenager may want constant contact with her mother, via texting or talking, when she is not with her.  Or she may experience a great deal of worry or anxiety before going away or feel homesick when she is away.  
  • She may struggle to ask for or accept help when she needs it.  She may place very high expectations on herself about needing to ‘be a grown up’ and feel that she is somehow failing if she asks for help
  • She may oscillate between these two ends of the spectrum.  One minute, she may be excessively needy and the next she may be entirely rejecting of support.   

An unhealthy relationship with food

The way a child looks after herself in the realm of food may reflect the state of her Earth Element.  It may be that the child has a very poor appetite, or is a fussy eater.  At the extreme end of the scale, eating disorders always include some imbalance of the Earth Element.  Another child may overeat in a misguided attempt to create a feeling of security. 

Some other signs that the Earth Element is struggling

  • She easily feels hard done by or that ‘nobody understands’
  • She is prone to tummy aches

How we can help the Earth Element in our children to develop strongly?

Provide as much consistent, responsive and nurturing care as possible

The more a child’s needs are met when she is young and entirely dependent, the more she will become adept at being able to look after herself when she is an adult.  Otherwise, she may go through life always seeking what she did not get as a child. 

The ‘right’ amount of mothering

Every parent will know that it is impossible to always make the best decision about when to step in, and when to step back and allow a child to work something out herself.  But if, as parents, we reflect on whether or not we have a tendency to err particularly on the side of being too hands off or of intervening too much, this can help us to moderate the tendency and achieve more of a middle way.

Allow a child to feel heard and understood

The Earth Element will grow stronger if a child feels that she is really listened to and that parents really understand how she feels.  In a rushed moment, it can be all too easy to respond to a child with a comment such as ‘there is no need to feel like that’ or ‘it can’t be that bad’.  Whereas if we respond with true empathy, by acknowledging how the child is feeling rather than denying it, it can help her to move through that feeling state more easily.

Provide a consistent rhythm and routine

The Earth Element thrives by having a rhythm to life.  This can be having meals at regular times, regular bedtimes and consistent patterns to the daily routine.  It is not about being rigid and inflexible.  But having some kind of rhythm and flow to daily life helps most children to feel secure and stable.  

Moderate amounts of intellectual or ‘head-based’ activities

For the Earth Element to thrive, a child needs to have times when she is not thinking or needing to apply her intellect.  School work cannot be avoided, but it should be balanced with physical activity, creative pursuits or imaginative play.  

Summary

Factors that challenge the healthy development of the Earth Element

  • Lack of nurture
  • Smothering or overly-dominant mothering
  • Lack of a stable home environment
  • Worry in the family
  • Too much intellectual stimulation

Signs the Earth Element in a child may be struggling

  • A tendency to worry
  • Difficulty in finding a balance between dependence and independence
  • An unhealthy relationship with food

Support for the healthy development of the Earth Element may include

  • Consistent, responsive and nurturing care
  • The ‘right’ amount of mothering
  • Allowing a child to feel heard and understood
  • Providing a consistent rhythm and routine
  • Moderate amounts of intellectual or ‘head-based’ activities

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