Mommy, my brain is hungry!

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Young kids tell you what they want. The iPad. Angry Birds. Skylanders and Lego Ninjago. American girl dolls and My Little Ponies.  A pop tart. A fruit rollup. Goldfish. Noodles with butter. Sound familiar?

If only they knew what their brains wanted to help regulate their physical and emotional states. Their pleas might then sound like this: “Mommy, my brain is hungry!  I gotta have some protein to focus. I need some avocado to think of something else before I hit my brother!”

 

The brain/nutrition link is elementary. The brain runs on neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are made from food, specifically protein. Neurotransmitters are carried on the superhighways between cells that are coated with fat. [Fat, you say? Good fats.] And sugars provide glucose for brain energy.  Complex carbohydrates supply sustained, long-lasting energy; simple, quick burning carbs only give rapid, short-lasting energy, leading to “zoom and crash.”

A parent might as well say,

“Blood sugar, go to your room!”

 

An after-school tantrum can reflect low blood sugar.  Classroom distraction can reflect inadequate intake of quality protein. Poor impulse control can reflect deficiencies and DHA and EPA.  I am no longer content to blame behavioral problems on “psychological” issues when the body may be the problem, or at least part of it. How silly that distinction even sounds… the distinction between mind and body is history.

Parents bring kids to psychologists to help change how their minds work … when it’s children’s bodies that often get them into trouble. The unspoken assumption is that the child mind can control his body, given the proper “tools.” But it’s more and more clear to me ~ we often have to help the body and brain first before I can do much with the mind.

Nothing is more proximal to your child ~ closer to his interior being ~ than what’s in his cells at any given moment.  

… closer than your hug, your touch, your loving words or threatened punishment … closer than therapy interventions. 

 

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Knowing children’s brains are hungry, I now routinely recommend a nutritional consultation at the commencement of care.  Sometimes, I advise parents at the intake to return in 30 days after  implementing nutritional changes.  No longer can I accept parents’ money and take their time if I believe a child’s body needs help before her mind can respond. How would I know this?


Over the past 4 years of my practice, my referrals for child psychiatry consults have plummeted.
 Why? Because parents are trying nutrition first with profound results. Many kids accept new food routines and even request specific foods at key times. They quickly recognize how different ~ and better ~ they feel.  These children actually start to say, “Mom, I need some protein…” My colleague Jan Katzen, former Montessori teacher and Certified Nutritionist, often says, “I have yet to meet a brain that does not respond to better nutrition.”  Jan is one of my most valued referral sources. Learn more about her at http://www.NutritionforLearning.com.


Do I lose business with all my nutrition referrals?
 
 Sort of! Some kids improve by eating differently and no longer need my services.  But more often, kids come back after a nutritional boost. Then therapy is more efficient and effective. That’s because a child’s brain chemistry and blood sugar is working with me.


Findable, affordable foods could potentially transform your child’s brain and body from dysregulation to balance.
 
Changing the timing and composition of snacks and meals can make all the difference. Canned black beans, apples with almond butter, stone-ground tortillas, walnuts and cage free eggs can turn around brains and behavior. Not being a nutritionist, I’ll stop there and leave it to the experts.  Picky eater?  Nutritionists of often have sneaky ideas for helping gradually change your child’s palate.


Does changing your child’s diet take some time and money? Yes. So does therapy. Try one, and you may not need the other.

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Child nutrition a module in Dr. Onufrak’s ChildSightTools® parent seminar series, delivered live in small-groups through out the year in her Phoenix, AZ office.
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Girls’ Friendship Help to the Rescue!

What is it about girls and their friendships?  Feelings get caught up in the mix. Girls who yearn for good social connections find themselves wrapped up in painful drama.  Driven by their raw hurt feelings, girls often make retorts that worsen problems and intensify conflict.  Parents try to help but don’t always have the most useful suggestions. “Just ignore her” or “just stay away from her” doesn’t cut the cake. How do we teach girls healthy communication skills? How can we help them express feelings assertively as well as develop compassion for others?

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New book from Annie Fox

The best answers I have ever found reside in Annie Fox’s brand new book, The Girls’ Q&A Book on Friendship. Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, family coach and trusted online adviser for teens.  But in this book she aims younger — to girls in third through sixth grades, ages 8-12. Annie Fox hopes to arm young girls with constructive, healthy friendship tools before the perilous middle school years.  The delightful illustrations are by the talented Erica De Chavez.  I love Annie’s vision of parents and girls cuddling up together with this book in their lap.

In my early childhood private practice, I see many girls in 3rd grade in addition to those who return at an older stage of development.  For a long time, I’ve been yearning for such a book as this. And here it is! For my first guest blog, Annie Fox agreed to answer some questions of mine to introduce this book to my readers … for help today, or for tomorrow!

Dr. Beth’s Interview with Annie Fox

Q: Dr. Beth – Why do you think girls become “mean?

A: Annie  –  If there can be a short answer to that HUGE question, it may be that “meanness” is a cover for hurt, jealousy, frustration, feelings of rejection, etc. And of course, girls aren’t the only ones who experience those emotions! Without getting too philosophical, I believe we live in a culture of cruelty where it is more acceptable to express aggression than it is to express vulnerable emotions. Maybe that’s why many girls and boys, men and women find it “easier” to respond to hurt, etc. with meanness. It’s ironic, when you really think about it, because when we feel vulnerable (and insecure in a relationship or in our social standing within a group) what we really want and need is reassurance. We want to bring people closer to us. Being mean isn’t likely to get us what we really want, and yet, that’s the behavior many choose.

Q: Dr. Beth – What led you to create the Q&A Guide in this format?

A: Annie – I’ve been answering email from tweens and teens since 1997. They send me questions about everything you can imagine (and lots of things you probably can’t imagine! LOL). And I often ask them questions too. So the question and answer format has become a very natural way for me to teach kids about empathy, compassion, social courage, and the difference between real friends and the other kind. Like any good teacher, my goal is to get kids to think for themselves … hopefully to help them learn how to calm down and ask themselves some questions before they respond to sticky situations. Questions like: “What am a going after in this situation?” and “Can I really change someone else’s behavior?” “And if I can’t get someone to change, how can I change my own response to what’s going on?”

Q: Dr Beth –  What are the main messages you hope to promote in the Q&A Girls Friendship Guide?

A: Annie – My main messages are:

1. You have the right to choose your friends, but you never have the right to be rude or disrespectful to anyone.

2. When we’re upset we don’t think clearly and we’re more likely to do or say things we will later regret. Calming down is the best first step to resolve any friendship challenge.

3. Sometimes we need to “take a vacation” from the drama! When you take that break you give yourself time to regroup and figure out what you really want and need in a friendship. You may discover that what you want and need can be found with a new friend.

Q: Dr. Beth – Parents often don’t see girl troubles coming until it hits their daughter. Why might this be?

A: Annie – Some girls (and boys) assume that when they get to a certain age they should not be sharing their emotional upsets with their parents. They figure “I’m old enough to take care of this myself.” And sometimes they can! But other times, kids start to feel overwhelmed by what’s going on in a friendship or some other peer relationship. The emotions are so intense they may not know how to talk about them to parents or anyone! (That’s when they write to me.)

In some cases, a girl is having trouble with a long-time friend (and her parents are long-time friends with the other girl’s parents). In those scenarios, the girls find it really hard to accept that there is a problem. (“How can there be a problem when we’ve been bff’s since pre-school!?”) And when they do talk to parents, the advice they get isn’t so helpful. (“Oh, she was probably just having a bad day. Forget about it.”) Parents need to know just how important their daughter’s friendships can be. By paying attention to the signs that a girl is feeling upset, a parent can help a girl express her feelings and brainstorm some options for her next best move. I’m hoping that parents/grandparents, teachers and counselors will read the book and use it to help girls.

Q: Dr. Beth – Your book is for 3rd to 6th graders. But what are your thoughts on 1st & 2nd grade girls?  What early messages should they receive to build a foundation for healthy friendships as they grow?”

A: Annie:  I know that girls’ friendship challenges can begin as early as preschool. My book could be used very effectively with K-2nd graders as girls that age are likely to recognize the situations in the book’s Q&A. This book is designed to give girls (and the adults who care about them) tools for managing emotions, communicating more effectively, and recognizing that when it comes to friends, it’s important to have some clear standards about what makes a real friend. And it’s very important that girls of all ages recognize that a friendship is a 2-way street. Yes, we want a friend to be kind, fun to be with, generous, a good listener, etc. And we also need to be aware of the kind of friend we are to others as well!

You can visit Annie at AnnieFox.com.  Look for The Girls’ Q&A Book on Friendship at Amazon.com, where you will also find my review.  I know this book will be of help to many girls in my care – for now, and in the years to come.