My First Grader Can’t Sit Still – How We Are Making it Work

I haven’t talked about my son’s health and related school issues in a long time.  I have some great updates to share.

A few weeks ago we attended a meeting at his school along with the school counselor, nurse, social worker, psychologist, his teacher, the special education teacher, and the occupational therapist.  The goal was to discuss his attention and behavior progress and whether or not he will need an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.  The slightly arrogant psychologist began the discussion by letting us know that she had observed our son and said he was unable to pay attention longer than three seconds.  She immediately lost all credibility with me, as I found that unrealistic and slightly offensive.  My son has a great attention span when it is something he is interested in.  Thankfully the rest of the school staff was much better at assessing our son’s behavior and learning abilities.  His teacher expressed that she does not feel he has a learning disability, but definitely has trouble sitting still and focusing.  This matched what I have observed at home.  During our homework time he will fidget, rub his eyes and face repeatedly, yawn, look around the room and fall off his chair attempting to distract himself from whatever school work I am asking him to focus on.  I have been able to help him focus and complete work, and so I know wholeheartedly the “three-second” school psychologist is not correct in her assessment.

After we all agreed that my son needed a more tailored approach to his education, the school staff dropped the bomb that he will need a diagnosis to qualify for an IEP.  I have been avoiding having my son diagnosed with ADD or ADHD because I do not want any labels following him through life like a stigma.  Honestly, I feel that ADD and ADHD are over diagnosed.  I also do not feel that my son’s lack of attention on reading or writing qualifies as a disease.  Children are in a full day of school at 5 years-old and are learning to read, write and do basic math.  When I was in kindergarten 27 years ago, it was mainly focused on building social skills with some basic language and math skills worked in.  I can’t imagine how difficult it is for a 5 year-old to sit still at a desk and listen attentively for so many hours a day.  Kids should be filled with energy and imagination.  They should be dreamers and creators.  Of the other moms I talk to from my son’s school, many of their children have been diagnosed with ADHD, usually boys.  A lot of them.  It’s pretty ridiculous.  Maybe instead of trying to force these kids into a system which doesn’t work, they should instead design a system which works better for these little energetic dreamers.  Which brings me back to the IEP.

While I really do not want a “diagnosis”, I know that they can call him whatever they want, I will never tell my son he is anything but perfect.  So I begrudgingly agreed to let them all meet with him one-on-one in the coming weeks to determine his “diagnosis.”  We are now set to meet again in a few weeks to discuss their findings and what changes we can make to help him do better in school.

Even though we have not yet implemented an IEP, my son has actually been doing a lot better lately in school.  He is still behind, but we are nonetheless thrilled and relieved to see progress in his behavior and attentiveness.  I think a lot of it is him growing and maturing, but I have been doing some things at home to help him feel balanced.

#1 – Address Gut Issues / Food Intolerances

A few weeks ago, I listened to an interview with Pam Machemehl Helmly, CN, entitled “A Balanced Brain Makes for a Balanced Child.”  It was part of the Children & Teen’s Health Summit and unfortunately can no longer be accessed for free.  It was a very interesting interview regarding treatment of AD/HD in children.  Pam stated that between 70 and 80% of the individuals diagnosed with AD/HD were dealing with gastrointestinal issues.  In the interview, Pam shared that many important neurotransmitters are produced in the gut, such as serotonin and around 40 others.  Neurotransmitters are chemicals which send information throughout the brain and the body.  If a person is lacking adequate neurotransmitters due to gut dysbiosis, the brain cannot function properly.  This means that the gut is largely a cause of AD/HD in children.  If your child has food allergies or digestive issues, you will want to pay special attention to this factor.

My son has allergies to gluten and soy.  It is so easy to let him have a little gluten here and there, or go out to eat and know he’s eating soy in some form.  (It’s hidden in everything.)  I have noticed again and again that his attention and overall state declines when I get lazy with his diet restrictions.  Lately I have been making a huge effort to make sure his food is free of any ingredients which will make him feel unwell.

It is also important to give kids a real food diet with as little preservatives, artificial coloring, overly processed sugar and other franken-ingredients as possible, otherwise they will not be operating at their best.  According to the Neurogistics website:

Individuals diagnosed with AD/HD share similarities among behavioral symptoms. However, the underlying causes may be heterogeneous due to a combination of several, biological, psychological and social factors.

Additionally, research has indicated that several biochemical factors may play a role in AD/HD. This includes food allergies and sensitivity to food additives such as flavor enhancers, coloring agents, as well as preservatives. Heavy metal toxicities (aluminum, lead, mercury) and other environmental toxins from air, food and water, vitamin deficiencies (B1, B3, B6), mineral (iron, selenium, zinc, copper, calcium, magnesium) and amino acid (tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine) abnormalities, essential fatty acids (omega-3 series) and phospholipid deficiencies, thyroid disorders as well as genetic predisposition can all play a role in AD/HD.  (Source)

#2 – Vetiver Essential Oil

Dr. Terry Friedman conducted a study, which can be found here.  The study showed that inhaling Vetiver essential oil three times daily resulted in increased beta-theta brain wave ratio.  (Beta waves are in an alert state, theta waves are in a sleep or daydreaming state.)  Researchers concluded Vetiver essential oil was effective in promoting concentration.   I put this oil in my diffuser, which is a difficult task but is the only way I have been able to consistently have him inhale it three times a day.  The oil is very thick and syrupy so it takes a little time and work to get a few drops out, but I feel it is worth the effort.

If you are going to be purchasing essential oils, make sure to research your source and be certain they are 100% pure.  Contact me if you are interested!

#3 – Taking Breaks

It may sound like common sense, but taking breaks during homework time really helps.  Once the fidgeting starts, I let my son take a play break for 5 minutes.  I make sure he understands he will be coming right back to avoid a tantrum.  It gives him a little relief and he comes back a little bit fresher.

Usually when he comes back after a break, we will start working on a different homework page than the one we were working on when he left.  His homework is usually divided into multiple sections per page, and so it helps to switch it up between subjects.

#4 – Exercise

A while back, I listened to this video from Kids In The House which explains that exercise increases dopamine and epinephrine, which are neurotransmitters  which ADD medicines are designed to increase.  The expert in the video, Dr. John Ratey, has several videos explaining how exercise helps the brain learn better, pay better attention and even grow socially.  According to Dr. Ratey,

Kids and adults learn better once they’ve exercised for a multitude of reasons.  Three ways of thinking about it:

One, it makes the learner a better learner, makes them more receptive, more focused, more motivated, more interested, less worried about capturing the material;

Second, it prepares the brain to learn. It actually releases chemicals in our brain that help our brain cells, 100 billion of the, be optimized to grow. That’s the only way we learn anything, is we take in information and our cells grow.

The third reason exercise is helpful is that it stimulates something called neurogenesis or making new brain cells. Everyone wants to hear about this, but it’s probably the newest and most controversial aspect of why exercise helps.  Exercise, more than any other drug or factor that we know of, helps create new brain cells, especially in the area of the brain that is involved with learning.  (Source)

With this information in mind, my husband and I bought this mini-trampoline for our kids this past Christmas.  On some of the homework breaks I explained above, my son will jump on the trampoline.  Its a really useful thing to have on-hand for long winters or rainy days.

Incorporating all of these things has helped make homework less of a struggle and has helped my son pay attention better, at home and in school.

What methods do you use to help your kids pay attention?  Please share in the comments below!

Additional Sources:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25078296

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22688187

https://www.neurogistics.com/TheScience/WhatareNeurotransmi09CE.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serotonin

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3 thoughts on “My First Grader Can’t Sit Still – How We Are Making it Work

  1. Ohhh, Janelle! Please take these comments and meetings with a grain of salt. I’m a certified teacher and I work at Sylvan and almost every single 1st grade parent says that they were told that their child doesn’t focus/pay attention. Finland gives breaks after only 30 minutes of instruction. Norway doesn’t start reading until 7-8 years old. China teaches that everyone can do well with the right amount of effort, regardless of any disabilities or quirks. America has a great idea of what they’d like out of our kids, but the worst means of trying to reach it. I’m so scared for my son to attend public school that I’m seriously considering home school (something that I don’t think I will enjoy, but am willing to do for my son to thrive) and we’re honestly hoping to be living outside of the country by then! Know that you have a voice for your son and make your voice heard in those meetings. Also, partner with them; offer your time, offer to make changes in the home or to print/send resources that are helpful to him, etc. Please let me know if I can be helpful in any way.

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    • Jaclyn, thank you so much for your comment and your insight. The school system is really ridiculous. I am not sure what they are trying to force these kids into becoming, but it’s pretty sad. The kids are all stressed out and don’t enjoy their days. I’d prefer to let them be little and enjoy themselves… I thought about homeschooling too, but I seriously don’t have the patience. I think my son will have a better day at the school he’s at now instead of my bootcamp version, haha! And thank you for your suggestions, I really appreciate it!

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  2. Take it easy on yourself and your little one. I have found that with very active kids a consistent routine is so important. I also find that sometimes I need help to focus on the things that only I can do. There have been times when I have hired a cleaning service, or other help to allow me to give my kids my best.

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