5 Ways to Foster Whole Person Care in Your Family

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5 Ways to Foster Whole Person Care in Your Family

Following my graduation from medical school, my first military post in 1982 as a family physician in Germany taught me more than I could have imagined about what we do and don’t know about how to raise a healthy family. As the community’s only physician, I was responsible not just for individual injury and health but also needed to manage families and whole units in all their mind-body-social complexity, which we referred to as the biopsychosocial model. I applied all my family and community medicine skills and training in this role. My job was not just to treat individuals but to keep the collective group healthy and functional.

In the 40 years since then, I’ve examined what it means to be a healthy family from the perspective of a family physician, a researcher, a father of three, and a three-time grandfather.

In an earlier article, we talked about how to create a whole person care plan for yourself. Now, let’s talk about how you can create a whole person care plan for your family.

Stop Following Trends; Start with Your Values

Trends in parenting, primary care, and pediatrics come and go. These trends can make it challenging to know the best way for a family to create a lifetime of health. People are left confused, conflicted, and overwhelmed as they try to make health decisions. Dr. Google can be confusing, and AI often contradicts itself.

Start with your mindset. Your family and their health values and behaviors have a great influence on your ability to be well. Being able to get to the core of what wellness means to you, and how that is expressed in your family’s daily life, can set the tone for a healthy family as a whole – physically, emotionally, socially, mentally and spiritually.

What I’m here to tell you follows no trends, relies on the evidence, and applies to families of all configurations, regardless of parenting style. You do not need to be cured or free of health challenges to be well.

When making a health decision for your family, ask yourself the following questions.

1. What are your health values as a family?

Start with the phrase: “We are a family that…” Think through your family health values. When you have a handle on what you value, it can help you prioritize conflicting decisions. You may find it helps to make a list and post it in a place you see regularly.

Examples: We are a family that likes to spend time outdoors. We are a family that needs to laugh every day. We are a family that prioritizes sleep. We are a family that makes time to pray or meditate each day. We are a family that finds love and gratitude with and for each other.

I had a patient named Rachel who worked through these steps to help her family increase movement in their day. She and her partner discussed how sitting and watching TV after dinner every night felt disconnected from what they valued as a family. They would end up silently scrolling their phones with the TV on in the background for the kids. This made them feel detached from each other even though they were in the same room, and the children would start to get antsy and bicker until bedtime.

After some conversations, Rachel and her partner decided to be a family that spends time outdoors as a family after dinner. This rapidly improved their physical, social, and mental health.

2. What seems to be at the root of the opportunity, problem, or challenge facing your family?

Is it sleep? Nutrition? Schedules? Explore ways to address it creatively. If you want to move more and getting outside isn’t an option for your family, can you have a nightly dance party in the family room?

Rachel struggled at first to see how they could incorporate getting outside and moving into their routine on weekdays because with two working parents and two active children, they just wanted a break after their long day. They wanted something that wasn’t too tiring or required getting back in the car after their commutes.

As a way to start small, they decided to go for a 20-minute walk around the block every evening after dinner and before bathtime. Even after deciding on this, they struggled to get the motivation to leave the house after cleaning up dinner and needed to figure out how they would achieve this goal. Eating later wasn’t an option because the children would get “hangry.”

3. Who is on your team?

Ask yourself who needs to be included for this positive change to happen? Explore who could help you live out your health value. Do you need to connect with a medical specialist, your primary care provider, a health coach, or perhaps a neighbor or grandparent? Or is it just you or your partner or your kids? All members of the family need to have buy-in. How can everyone, including the children, contribute to making a positive change?

For Rachel, she realized that she and her partner needed to work as a team to get out the door after dinner. One person would put the food away and quickly stack the dishes beside the sink while the other got the kids ready for the walk. It meant they needed to clean up the kitchen after the walk, but it was a decision they felt was worth it.

4. What does the evidence show?

When making a change, it can be helpful to know whether it is one that is based in science. This is more important when following a new diet or adding a new non-drug or drug approach than taking a walk or going to bed early.

One framework that I have used for decades is called using the 4Ps, which I talk about in my book “Healing and Cancer.” To summarize, the 4Ps are:

  • Protect – Could this new approach cause any harm? This includes financial risk, physical risk, and others.
  • Permit – If the approach hasn’t been proven by research but isn’t likely to cause harm, the practice should be explored if you are interested in it.
  • Promote – If the practice is proven, you should feel empowered to pursue it.
  • Partner – When questions arise about a new practice or health behavior, you should feel able to ask someone on your health care team.

Rachel knew the evidence showed going for a walk can help with a host of challenges, which is why Rachel felt this was something she wanted to do. As a cancer survivor, she also learned moderate walking and exercise can improve mental health, help control weight, prevent future diseases (e.g., heart disease and some cancers), and even reduce fatigue during cancer treatment. These findings helped keep her motivated when overcoming challenges related to making the change.

5. How can you start small to make a positive change?

All roads can lead to healing. Start where you have interest or energy or with whichever is the most easily achievable goal. Studies have shown that one success leads to another. Be grateful for the small success.

One way to create achievable goals is to use the SMART approach. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

For Rachel’s family, this meant: After dinner Monday through Thursday, take a moderately-paced 20-minute walk around the block.

Even the words they used helped her family stay committed to the outing. By calling it their “nightly walk,” they reminded themselves that this was a habit they valued as a family. After two weeks of doing this, it felt routine. It was a new healthy habit they all enjoyed.

As a side effect, they found that it increased their satisfaction as a couple to have a moment to talk about their days and they felt more connected with their community when they chatted with their neighbors as they walked through the neighborhood. They even found their son slept better after the walk. By fighting bedtime less, it reduced their end-of-day stress.

This small win motivated Rachel to start meal prepping for herself for the weekdays. On Sunday, she spent 1 hour making her lunches for the week ahead – usually baked chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, and a vegetable. Each day, before she left for work, she would take one out of the freezer to microwave later in the day. This helped her save money on lunches; use her lunch hour to do a chore or connect with co-workers; and eat more wholesome foods than she could buy near work.

Take a Whole Person Approach

Returning our focus to the core wellness factors that create a lifetime of health can help us to reduce preventable chronic disease in our children and ourselves. The earlier we make changes, the better for us all.

It’s important to remember what makes up health. It is not just what you eat and whether you exercise. Health includes these three areas:

  • Physical and behavioral aspects: Encourage a healthy diet, regular physical activity, and adequate rest, all of which can significantly impact recovery from the ups and downs of life and promote overall wellbeing.
  • Social and emotional support: Foster strong support networks, including family, friends, and support groups that offer understanding and companionship.
  • Spiritual and mental health: Engage in practices that promote spiritual wellbeing and mental health, such as meditation, art therapy, or religious participation, which can help people cope with whatever comes their way.

Take one of these areas, perhaps your family’s social life, and ask yourself the following three questions which are from the VA’s Well-Being Signs research1, a quick and easy way to explore how you are doing in your daily life

Over the past month, on average how often have you been:

1. Fully satisfied with how things are going?

2. Regularly involved in things that are important to you?

3. Functioning your best in the most important things you do?

Thinking through these questions can help you decide whether you’d like to make changes in an area of your life to improve your wellbeing.

And remember, it doesn’t matter where you start. Just start.