Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Giving Them What They Need, So They'll Give Us What We Want

Recently I had a bit of a run in with the mother of a little boy I treat.  His teacher had complained, yet again, that he simply could not sit still in class.  When she called to tell me about it, I asked her, yet again, if she was taking him to the park to run around and play for 20 minutes before school began and again in the afternoon before it was time for homework.  She became very irritated and told me that there was simply no time in her day for it, and to stop asking, because it wasn't going to happen.  I told her, "I understand that you are all very busy, but he will never be able to meet your expectations unless you first give him what he needs."

I took a really interesting class many  years ago called "How Does Your Engine Run?"   The women who developed the program had devised a whole way of thinking about how alertness and arousal levels are dependent on the state of body, and how sensory defensive children tend to be either underaroused or overaroused, with not much in the middle. This makes them largely unavailable for learning or for exploring and socializing in an age appropriate way.

We learned all kinds of strategies for helping the children's "engines" to idle in the middle range, so that they were in the just right state for learning.  I left the course with a whole new appreciation for how the state of my body affected my brain and emotions, and thus my reactions and behaviors. I saw how I could manage my own engine speed to increase my alertness, or to soothe myself when I was overstimulated or out of sorts, and have more control over my responses and my ability to stay present and focussed in meetings and classes.

I like the engine analogy. If you drive a car, you know that in order for it to respond beautifully, it needs premium fuel, water, air in the tires, regular tune ups and oil changes, and intact brakes.  If you  take care of your car's basic needs, you can expect it to handle well, get good mileage, and do what you want it to do:  start up reliably, stop promptly, steer responsively, idle quietly, rev up quickly.

Car engines are less complex than children, it's true, but in order for children to be able to function at their best, they, like car engines, need certain basic things.

The first thing a child needs to function at his best is premium fuel. If you put the cheapest gas in the tank of  your car, would you expect it to handle well?  Many of the children I see at the clinic are fed a steady diet of second rate food, like french fries, chicken nuggets, white bread and cold cuts, toaster waffles, sugary cereals, cookies, soda, and chips, and their behavior reflects it.

Your car needs the best fuel you can provision in order to handle well, and so does your child.  Premium fuel means fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, water instead of soda or juice, and saving processed foods for an occasional treat.  Children are not at their best when they eat a lot of refined carbs.

Please make sure that your child's breakfast and lunch don't come prepackaged.  Protein bars and granola bars are full of unpronounceable ingredients and sugar and are not a good substitute for whole, fresh, unprocessed food.   {One dad, who does most of the cooking for his family, calls packaged food like granola bars "Saturday food," which I think is a great idea.}

Premium fuel, especially on a school day, is a solid breakfast with lots of protein, a nutritious, unprocessed lunch, and a high protein after school snack, so that they can focus on their homework.

Children should not be drinking soda, enhanced, flavored waters, or lots of juice, which predisposes them to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Some kid friendly ideas for a good breakfast:  string cheese, a hard boiled egg, a handful of nuts and dried apricots, a smoothie made with yogurt and frozen berries, nut butter and banana on whole grain toast.  Steel cut oats with maple syrup and walnuts is delicious and rib sticking, and can be made in advance and quickly heated up the next morning.

Some ideas for non junk food after school snacks:  fruit kebabs with a cinnamon yogurt dipping sauce, quesadillas, Wasa bread and cheese, guacamole with whole grain chips, canned salmon, cherry tomatoes, cut up raw vegetables and dip, ants on a log {celery stuffed with peanut butter and sprinkled with raisins}.

In order to to function well, children need lots of sleep.  From the age of three until they are seven, they should be getting a minimum of 12 hours a night, and seven year olds still need at least 11.  If they don't get that much, their attention, concentration, and behavior suffer.   If your child has trouble falling asleep, he needs to be outside more, and television and computer time should be drastically reduced.  Turn off the computer a minimum of two hours before bedtime, and if you don't already have one, institute a regular bedtime routine with story time and a snuggle.

Anxious children have a particularly hard time transitioning to sleep.  To decrease anxiety, make sure they get intense exercise during the day. Have them play with blow toys to improve their respiration.  If your child is tactile defensive and is on a therapeutic brushing program, try brushing before he changes into pajamas.

Some children respond very well to heavy, weighted blankets.  The deep pressure makes them feel relaxed and secure.  You don't need to buy a special weighted blanket.  Old fashioned wool blankets are quite substantial.

  A warm bath with epsom salts before bed is soothing.  You can also experiment with essential oils.  Lavender, valerian, and cedarwood are said to be good for relaxation and promoting sleep.  {Sheets and blankets have been traditionally stored with lavender in Europe for centuries.}

Sugar, caffeine, and food additives are excitatory to the nervous system and so should be eliminated at least two hours before bedtime.  {Or if I had my way, altogether.}

 In order to be able to perform optimally, a child needs regular time outside, and lots of exercise.  I'm not just talking about soccer practice on Saturday mornings.  Children should be outside every single day in every weather, preferably doing things that require their heads to be in all kinds of different positions and give them all kinds of different movement experiences, like swings, slides, teeter totters, merry go rounds, bicycles, scooters, skates, etc.  Activities that require using balance and motor planning and challenge the child's coordination are the best.

I would also recommend making the child's environment as non toxic as possible.  Ditch the scented products, don't wear shoes inside the house, and replace your cleaning products with baking soda and vinegar.  Don't nuke his food, which should be organic when possible, or if you must nuke,  don't nuke it in plastic.

What else?  I would say that in addition to these basic things, they need lots of affection and quality time with the people they love  -- turn off your Crackberry and your cell phone when you're with your children, please.

In order to feel safe and secure, all children need firm limits and patient, loving discipline.  They need a sense of responsibility and things to which they can aspire.  They need toys that encourage their imaginations and challenge their eye hand coordination, and they need books that make them think about the world and teach them wisdom.

 Make sure your child knows he's part of a strong, solid tribe.  Spend regular time with the child's aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.  Have dinner together as a family every night, and talk to each other.  Turn off the television and the telephone while you're at the table.

What else does your child need to succeed?

1 comment:

Regula said...

Nothing more to say.

I don't know how it is at your place, but here I recommend students to go to school on foot or by bike. It helps them to relax after a school day. Making them tired - especially the boys. So they are sugar in your hands at home.