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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Treat Hives in Children Quickly and Naturally

I think all parents can agree with me when I say that I hate it when my kids get sick.  Thankfully my oldest son, who normally would have caught a few colds, coughs and stomach bugs by this time of the year, has been pretty healthy.  (I’m actually thrilled about this and know it is because we eliminated soy and gluten from his diet after doing an allergy blood test.)  My little, however, has had one bug after another.

It started with a cold sometime in the beginning of October.  After a few days he was better, and then had a stomach bug one morning.  (He threw up on a Monday morning and was fine by the afternoon – he’s a tough little guy!)  Next came… a giant, freakish rash!

How it started.

Friday. It started coming in on a Friday with just a few little red dots here and there.  It didn’t look like a rash.

Saturday.  In the evening, I noticed his back had some red spots clustered.  It was beginning to look rashy.  We still hoped it was nothing but were beginning to get concerned.    I thought about trying some essential oils but  decided to leave it alone.  I was not sure if the rash was a virus or just hives and wanted to see if his body could handle it.  He also started getting really acidic bowel movements on Saturday, which was causing him painful diaper rash.

Hives2

Sunday.  On Sunday, things only got worse.  It became a full-blown rash on his trunk with big blotches of red all over and he was starting to itch.  I was using this Florasone cream on it as needed when I saw him itching.  He also was still getting really painful diaper rash due to acidic poops.  He was a mess!  We gave him an oatmeal bath before bed and I tried a little test spot on his shoulder blades of coconut oil mixed with Lavender Essential Oil.  I just swiped my hand inside his shirt so it was nothing regimented.  We were still unsure if this rash was hives from an allergy or if it was caused by a virus.  We decided to give his body one more night to try to kick it with no intervention.

Hives3

Monday.  On Monday morning the rash had spread all over his legs and arms and was starting to get on his face.   He had no fever and was his normal happy self, with the exception of terrible diaper rash caused by his burny poops.  I called his pediatrician and they confirmed it was hives, stating there is no way to tell what causes them.  She instructed me to give him Benadryl until they were clear.  She also recommended we take him for allergy testing.  While I really don’t like giving my kids over-the-counters, in this case his rash was so bad we gave him a dose.  I felt it was too serious to experiment with a natural antihistamine.  I also slathered him in the Lavender and coconut oil mixture, applying it twice a day and more where he was itching.

hives4

How to know if you are dealing with hives.

The American Academy of Pediatrics explains:

Hives are welts on the skin that often itch. These welts can appear on any part of the skin. Hives vary in size from as small as a pen tip to as large as a dinner plate. They may connect to form even larger welts.  A hive often goes away in 24 hours or less. New hives may appear as old ones fade, so hives may last for a few days or longer. A bout of hives usually lasts less than 6 weeks. These hives are called acute hives…   Acute hives often result from an allergy, but they can have many other causes.

Please be sure there is no fever present and the person affected is otherwise feeling normal.  If there is a fever you could be dealing with something more severe.  A call or visit to your doctor is a good idea just to make sure it is hives and not something else.

Finding what caused the hives.

As the pediatrician explained, there are so many causes of hives that it is impossible to determine exactly what caused them.  Being an over-analytic mother, however, I am pretty sure I can figure at least most of the reasons why.

According to the book Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A Balch,

Most cases of hives are brought on as allergic reactions and coincide with the release of histamine in the body.  The release of histamine into the skin produces an inflammatory reaction, with itching, swelling and redness.  Hives can cause significant discomfort, but it does not cause injury or damage to any vital organs.

The skin is the largest organ of the body.  It is an important part of the excretory system.  The skin acts in conjunction with other systems in the body to remove toxins and waste.  Hives can be a natural reaction to the presence of a foreign substance in the body.  However, an offending substance need not enter the body to trigger an outbreak of hives.  Merely coming into contact with various substances… can unleash a maddening attack of hives.”

In addition to allergic reactions to food, pesticides, chemicals in personal care products, laundry products and cleaning products can all cause hives.  Viruses and antibiotics are also listed as possible causes of hives.

Once I was sure we were dealing with hives, I began reviewing everything I was feeding my son and trying to figure out what could be causing his rash.  I hadn’t changed anything in my laundry or cleaning routines and so I assumed the cause was something he was ingesting.  I had already been noticing he was eating too much baked treats, bread, and pasteurized dairy such as cheese and organic yogurt.  These are acidic foods.  Normally we don’t eat any dairy except for our non-homogenized milk or a tiny bit of sour cream.  Unfortunately I was in a cooking rut and I was giving my kids one or two servings of  dairy a day because they weren’t eating the things I normally make.  This meant my son was eating less veggies because he was filling up on the other foods.  Veggies are very alkalizing and can balance out an acidic diet.  I personally can feel when I eat too much acidic foods that I need some greens to balance me out… so when my kids are only eating grains and dairy it makes me a little wary.  The fact he had acidic poops and really bad diaper rash was verifying my suspicion that he was eating too many acidic foods.

On Monday I also checked my Reference Guide for Essential Oils to make sure I was using the right oil for hives.  Lo and behold, it states, “Hives may be the result of too much acid in the blood…”  It also recommends diluting tea tree, peppermint or lavender essential oils topically.  Lavender is considered the most gentle oil which is why I chose it to use on my toddler.  I would not use tea tree or peppermint on a child under six.

To adjust his diet, I cut out dairy right away.   I also checked the label on the bread we buy and of course, the third ingredient was egg whites.  I purposely never feed him egg whites because it causes his eczema to flare on his face, but I had been giving him this bread daily not thinking that it had egg whites in it.  (His eczema never showed up, so I didn’t even think about it.)  I had even given him a small sandwich before bed on Sunday night, when the hives were in full swing!  Doh!  I cut all sources of egg whites from his diet, including any baked goods.   The book Prescription for Nutritional Healing recommends alcohol, all processed foods, sugary foods, dairy, eggs, chicken and nuts be avoided.

Treating the hives to promote fast healing.

As I mentioned above, I decided to try using a 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil mixed with two drops of Lavender Essential Oil on Sunday night.  My son is a 30 lb. 2-year-old, so adjust accordingly.  The next morning the test spots were clear!  Check out this picture:

Oilhives

Because he reacted well to the Lavender oil, on Monday I applied this three times all over his body, morning, noon and night.  The reason I first tried a test spot on him is because the brand I used recommends to be careful on sensitive/ irritated skin.  I am really happy the way the Lavender application went.  I recommend doing a test spot to make sure you have the proper dilution and no reaction will develop.

We gave our son two doses of Benadryl on Monday, just to be sure we were stopping the progression of the rash.  We did 1/2 a teaspoon in the morning and 1/2 a teaspoon at night.  The pediatrician told me to give him a full teaspoon because he is almost 30 lbs., but the 1/2 teaspoon did just fine.  The less we use over-the-counters, the better!!

Thankfully by Tuesday morning, this is what he looked like:

hives5

In short, this is what worked:

  • First and most importantly, review the diet and immediately stop consuming processed foods, dairy, eggs, nuts and any other potential allergens.  If you have no idea what the person affected may be allergic or sensitive to, getting some allergy testing done is a good idea.  An elimination diet is also really beneficial for determining food sensitivities.
  • Apply a natural anti-itch cream like Florasone as needed to stop discomfort and scratching.
  • A colloidal oatmeal bath such as this one by Aveeno can also help relieve itching.
  • Apply Lavender Essential Oil plus coconut oil three times a day.  Do a test spot first.  Continue until the rash is completely gone.
  • Oral antihistamine such as Benadryl if the hives really bad and still spreading.  I only needed two doses, once I saw the rash beginning to fade I stopped this right away.  (I realize this is not a natural treatment, but in some cases it may be necessary to stop the spread of the hives.)

Next time I see a rash coming on I am going to immediately look at his diet and eliminate any possible irritants.  If I would have done this right away this time, there would have been no need to use Benadryl.  Live and learn, right?

Do you have any natural treatment for hives?  Please share in the comments below!

**I am not a doctor and am not giving medical advice.  Human bodies are not “one size fits all” and the causes and effective treatments vary from person to person.  Always check with your doctor for any medical problem.

DIY: Replacement Reed Diffuser Oil

I love a house that smells good. Who doesn’t?! I love burning candles in the fall and winter, and I love using reed diffusers in my bathroom year round. What I do not love, however, are the toxic chemicals that get dispersed into my home and the air we breathe when using conventional candles or reed diffusing oil.  With asthma, allergies and eczema not an issue for us lately (finally!) I continue to be really careful about what toxins we are exposed to.

I have this really awesome reed diffuser I bought from one of those candle party companies a few years ago.  It sits on my bathroom counter empty because I ran out of oil a long time ago and never thought I could make my own.  The other day I was on one of those fanatic cleaning/ organizing sprees – am I the only one who does that?  While I was on my cleaning spree, I thought, “Hey, I have all these great smelling essential oils.  I bet I can make a homemade reed diffusing oil with ingredients I have here!”  15 seconds later, Google supplied me with about 15 trillion websites with different kinds of recipes for reed diffusing oils.  You are now reading post 15 trillion and one.  People use all kinds of ingredients like olive oil or sesame oil in combination with essential oils.  I’m sure this wouldn’t happen, but I imagined the oil sitting on my counter collecting dust and growing mold… I don’t want any part of that, even if it is Halloween!

The recipe I made is a loose combination of the ten websites I checked out, minus any food based oils.  My bathroom smells fresh and lovely.  I read on the Yankee Candle website that you are supposed to change your reeds frequently, like every time you change the oil, to keep the scent dispersing properly.  My reeds are about three years old and I have never changed them, so I have ordered these ones and cannot wait to see if it increases the scent in the room.

All you need is the following:

1/3 cup distilled water

2 teaspoons rubbing alcohol

20 drops of essential oils of your choice

Simply mix the ingredients together in a glass jar with a narrow opening and put in your reeds.  Do not fear, the smell of the rubbing alcohol will not fill your room.  After a few hours it was gone from the mixture completely.  All that I could smell was the essential oil.  (Thank god!  I hate the smell of rubbing alcohol.)

I flip my reeds over a few times a day to keep the scent going strong.  What an easy and inexpensive way to keep a home smelling fresh and chemical free!

If you are interesting in purchasing essential oils, click here to learn more!