There is no such thing as a bad kid. There are only imbalanced brains. Imbalanced brains can manifest as many types of behavioral problems in kids, including aggression, inconsolable tantrums, extreme sensory sensitivities, consistent panic and fear not appropriate for the situation, compulsive behaviors like tics, or difficulties reading social cues and interacting with other kids.
These problems are not indications of an innate dysfunction in the child, rather of environmentally triggered imbalances that can be addressed through nutrition, lifestyle, and parenting changes.
Here are the first steps to take to reduce these difficult symptoms. Start at the top, and work down the list, adding a new approach every 2-4 weeks until you see a change in symptoms.
1. Engage in positive parenting
Sometimes kids just need more positivity in their lives. Before taking drastic steps with nutrition, try shifting your parenting style. You may end up needing to add nutritional interventions on top of this step, but it is an important backbone to create more positive family relationships.
Kids with brain imbalances are especially sensitive to criticism or the perception that they have done something “wrong” or bad”. They are particularly susceptible to getting caught in a “shame spiral” which can severely exacerbate behavioral or emotional difficulties. Try to focus on connecting with your child in positive ways.
Three good general guidelines for this are:
-Come up with 5 “house rules” related to basic safety and expectations. Try to be lenient with all other behaviors.
-For every correction you make in the child’s behavior, make 5 positive statements about things they are doing well
-Always correct the behavior, not the child. For example, instead of saying “why are you so out of control?!” Say, “Please slow your body down.”
2. Eliminate processed foods and food additives
These compounds have been documented to cause neurological and digestive inflammation which can increase negative behavioral or emotional symptoms: refined seed oils (soybean, canola, corn, safflower, sunflower, vegetable oil), preservatives, artificial AND natural flavors and colors, “malt” anything (maltodextrin, malt extract, etc.), citric acid, cornstarch, food starch, cellulose powder, pectin, gums (guar gum, xantham gum, etc.)
Focus on eating whole foods that you could grow, raise, or make in your own back yard. Many people see a dramatic change in their child’s behavior, social skills and learning abilities just by making this shift to a whole foods diet.
3. Eliminate common food allergens
The top food allergens are:
-Conventional A1 dairy
Eliminate these one by one, every 2-4 weeks, until you see a difference. Food allergies can cause inflammation in the nervous and digestive systems, which can exacerbate problematic behavioral and emotional symptoms.
4. Eliminate added sugars and artificial sweeteners to foods
Such as aspartame/nutrasweet, refined sugar, cane sugar, brown rice sugar, fruit juice as sweeteners, molasses, turbinado sugar, raw cane sugar, agave syrup, maple syrup
Artificial sweeteners are quite toxic neurologically speaking, but even natural sugars and sweeteners can be disregulating to blood sugar levels if there is an existing predisposition for this. The body sees disregulated blood sugar as an emergency, and difficulty focusing, irritability and emotional instability can be side effects. Try to keep your child’s blood sugar regulated by feeding them plenty of healthy fats and proteins, and avoid snacks and desserts of “naked carbohydrates”- or carbohydrates without accompanying fat to help keep the blood sugar more steady. For example, always serve apple slices with nut butter, always serve oatmeal with eggs on the side, always serve rice and vegetables with chicken or beef.
5. Eliminate foods and products high in glutamate
Yep- we are talking the infamous MSG here. The problem is, it is not only MSG itself that can cause these symptoms. People have problems with MSG because it is high in glutamate, which is a natural amino acid found in many foods. It has important functions in the body, and is not inherently “bad” for us. The problem happens when our amino acid intake is imbalanced, and many children with behavioral and emotional difficulties have levels of glutamate in the brain that are too high. Glutamate is an “activating” amino acid, and if the levels are too high symptoms like irritability, anger, aggression, mood instability, tics, difficulty focusing, and hyperactivity can be the result. Adjusting the diet until the levels rebalance can be helpful. Here is a list of high glutamate foods:
Anything fermented: sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, cheese, pickles
“Spices” as an ingredient item
Soy and any derivative of (Soy flavoring, soy protein extract)
Processed vegetarian protein sources such as “textured protein”, “hydrolyzed protein”, “protein fortified”
“Ultra pasteurized” products, low fat products
“Enriched” with synthetic vitamins
Shelf stable, dried “snack foods”
Hopefully, these tips can provide you significant relief from difficult and exhausting behaviors. It’s important to remember, however, that while these tips can be very helpful in reducing symptoms, they are sometimes band aids to the underlying issues of nutrient and gut imbalances. For especially stubborn or severe cases, a more drastic intervention to rebalance the gut may be indicated. For full remission of serious symptoms, work on introducing a low carbohydrate, nutrient dense, gut repair diet high in foods that contain glycine, taurine, B vitamins and minerals.
Gut repair will address the root causes of emotional and behavioral dysregulation by rebalancing the gut microbiota, reducing gastrointestinal distress, reversing food intolerances, balancing blood sugar, and improving consumption of important nutrients.
Please see my Total Gut Reset online course for a step by step guide on rebalancing and repairing the gut.