In our daily lives we are inundated with information – so much so that lots of it gets chucked out the window, right? I often hear from parents that they can not find the time to get credible, easily understandable directions to help their children, who have been labelled ADD/ADHD. They have questions that their doctors often answer with medications, with big medical degree words, leaving parents more confused than before they walked into the office. And many parents do not want to medicate their children, a mind-view I am totally behind. Please understand, medical doctors are great for ‘sick care’; by this, I mean that no one is better to see if you are injured, have a disease, or are just plain ol’ sick. But brain care…that’s a different story. And when we’re talking about ADD/ADHD, we’re talking about brain care. And our brains – yes, even our children’s brains – are the best repository for chemicals in the world. In the last few years, many studies have shown that simple steps like improving nutrition have significant impacts on these chemicals – which then affect behavior, attention spans, and many other mental issues. Parents are looking for positive change. So let’s cut through some red herrings and get to some of the right stuff.
When approached by parents for help with their kids (after consulting doctors and counsellors without much success), I give a list of suggestions to follow and tell them to take one thing at a time. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and little steps are all we can do and expect of ourselves and our children. These are just three things I ask parents to begin with.
- TALK to the child. Before starting any program that has as it’s goal positive change, you must communicate with them, let them know what you have planned, what has been recommended. They’re not stupid, but they may – and often do – feel like they are. They know that there’s a problem. ASK them what they think about the outlined plan, what they want, and how they would go about changing things. They may surprise you; one child with whom I worked actually piped up one day when asked what he would change and said he would like to see his parents follow through on what they promised. So, I suppose 1a would be FOLLOW THROUGH with things. In my young clients’ mind, at the time, he was of course thinking about the rewards that he’d been promised that had never appeared. But this also means any disciplinary threats; if you threaten bad behavior with loss of privileges or time-outs, be specific, and carry it out. Consistency over time will be more efficacious than medications.
- For a week, record how much water your child is drinking throughout the day. I realize that during school, this may be difficult, but ask your child how many times they visited the drinking fountain (usually a kid will drink at least an ounce at any one visit.) Stay in contact with the teacher; they can cross reference, so that you can come to a reasonable amount. Get your kid involved in the proccess as well – make it part of daily routine to fill out visually stimulating worksheets after school every day. Many are available online – or you and your child could create one together. What’s the goal here? Drinking one half of their body weight in ounces throughout the day is considered healthy. So, for example, if your kid weighs 75lbs, he/she should be drinking about 35 to 40 ounces of water a day. I can already hear the questions piling up, starting with “Why?” Well, dehydration is terrible for the brain and has been linked to hyperactivity among a number of other disturbing childhood behaviors (Batmanghelidj, F and Phillip Day, Water and Salt Updated Credence). So, this is the easiest step to find out if you’re child’s behavior is linked to his/her water intake. Or lack thereof.
- The following week (after the water week), start a new log for food. Record each meal and snack – and juice and soda as well; again, keep in contact with teachers at school to check your child’s eating habits away from home. Pay attention to the amount of sugar they are consuming – refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup, starch – it all adds up. Also, pay attention to the amount of processed food they eat; this means processed meats and cheeses such as are in those oh-so-convenient little compartmentalized “lunch-ables”. As I wrote earlier, much info is out there on nutrition and a lot of it is very confusing. If I were to have you take one thing with you from this article, it would be the fact that processed foods are very low in nutrition – and this has terrible consequences for the brain and behavior (read Dr. Stephen Gislason’s books Feeding Children, Children and Family for many examples and studies).
Don’t make any sudden changes to your child’s diet without consulting his/her doctor (and of course, never discontinue any medications that the child is currently taking until it’s been approved.) Show the professionals involved these logs you’ve kept, ask for detailed plans of nutrition. Ask questions. Don’t settle for the ‘cookie cutter’ approach. Your child is unique and deserves and needs a plan centered around them.