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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Post baby flat abs without the crunch!

Crunches

Before I had my second son, I was a push up machine.  A normal workout would be sets of push ups in different variations for almost an hour.  I was up to 25 push ups in a row without stopping.  Then I had my monster baby.  9 pounds, 1 ounce of giant baby boy.  I remember he was so big in my stomach I could not sit normally, I had to lean back to give him room to move.  Needless to say, my abs took a beating.

I began working out at 6 weeks postpartum trying to get back into the swing of things.  Of course push ups felt extremely awkward that soon after having a baby and I avoided trying to do them for five or six months.  When I finally began trying, however, I would end up with terrible lower back pain.  After several months of trying, my push ups were not getting easier, no matter how often I tried to do them.  There were times I could only do a few before my abs were tired and I had to stop.  Ab focused exercises were another time when I hated doing my workout.  Crunches, v-ups, flutter kicks – I struggled through everything.  My abs would actually dome if I contracted them to lift my legs and head off the ground.  Eek!  There was also a lot of stress on my lower back and it didn’t seem natural.

It was then I discovered I had diastasis recti, which is a thinning of the linea alba (the tissue which holds the abdominal muscles together.)  Every woman experiences this beginning in the second trimester of pregnancy and continuing into the postpartum phase.  For many women, the split between the abs does not close again on its own.  This is why many of us mothers feel we still look pregnant due to a belly bulge many years after having our babies!  The abdominal wall is not able to hold everything in place when it is separated.  And men, don’t stop reading!  This can happen to everyone for all kinds of reasons, especially exercising the wrong way.

It turns out that crunches are terrible for abs, especially in post baby recovery!  Doing conventional ab work (sit-ups, etc.) after having a baby will never get rid of your pooch, or suck back in the sides of your waist.  According to this great article from the trainers over at TheDiaMethod.com,

“…many conventional abdominal exercises strain the connective tissue in the abdomen, which widens your waistline and creates or worsens an existing pooch. The list of offenders includes crunches, bicycle crunches, sit-ups, and even a few moves in yoga and Pilates. The very exercises you might be doing to ‘get your body back’ can actually exacerbate the problem you’re trying to fix. To state it as simply as possible: any movement that bulges the abdominal wall forcefully forward will further separate the abdominal muscles, making a post-pregnancy pooch worse. Always engage your abdominal muscles in a flat-to-flatter contraction. Never allow the abs to bulge forward.”

How to test for diastasis recti at home.  I am no expert, so here is a video from an expert explaining how to check for diastasis recti.  If you think you have a serious problem, please consult a doctor!

Healing diastasis recti through exercise.

You can get your stomach and waist back!  Before I even knew about diastasis recti I had thrown normal ab work out of my routine because it just didn’t feel right.  (And my dome abs freaked me out.)  I started doing a variety of modified planks and other exercises which engaged my core in ways which did not feel uncomfortable.  Slowly my old waistline began to re-appear!  Unbeknownst to me, I was working my transverse abdominis (TA) which is the body’s natural girdle, holding in the stomach and allowing a leaner appearance.  Working the TA is a crucial step in getting flat abs, and doing exercises like crunches and sit-ups will not work this muscle.

Many experts on diastasis recti state that normal planks are bad for the condition, which explains why I had problems with push ups.   If you have diastasis recti or have recently given birth, gentler exercises should be focused on which will assist in pulling the linea alba back together.  Here are two great resources on exercises designed for diastasis recovery:

5 Exercises to Heal Diastasis

TS – Totally Transverse

Once you feel you are ready for more advanced activities:

Side plank dips from my knees is one of the most effective exercises I have used to regain my core strength.  Here is a video:

Side plank leg raise is another great side plank exercise which I found challenging but very rewarding.

The best way I have found to strengthen my core without doing ab work is boxing.  I have had great results from this activity.  If you get a chance, try it!

Remember, it is all about listening to your body and doing what feels right.  When in doubt, seek a doctor or guidance from a trained professional.

Crunches can further separate the linea alba, making it impossible to get a flat stomach.  Try these moves instead! #postbaby #workout #flatabs

Sources:

http://wholenewmom.com/health-concerns/lose-your-mummy-tummy-and-why-crunches-are-bad-for-you/

http://fit2b.us/2011/02/16/when-crunches-make-your-pooch-worse/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leah-keller/tips-for-flat-abs_b_3715475.html

http://inspiredrd.com/2013/10/diastasis-recti-fixes.html

http://www.leanitup.com/plank-your-way-to-better-abs-with-these-5-variations/

Workout Wednesday – Outdoors HIIT Routine – No Excuses!

Try this fat MELTING HIIT Routine next nap time.  Take it outdoors and get a tan at the same time!Let me just preface this post with saying that I am not a personal trainer, nor am I certified in any kind of fitness related fields.  I have, however, been working out almost daily for the last six years, and some of that time was spent under the guidance of different personal trainers.  I love working out, have tried many different methods of staying fit, and what I share here is simply my personal opinion on what is effective, fun and amazing!

For me, a steady workout routine is necessary to live a clean and healthy life.  It keeps my appetite healthy, my mind and body feeling great, and most importantly helps me be patient with those around me.  Anything that helps me be a better mom is a staple in my daily life.

Having kids makes it tough to get a workout in.  Previously, I belonged to a gym and would take over two hours everyday to drive to the gym, get a good workout in (which usually took over an hour), drive home and shower.  Honestly, what mom has that much time to dedicate to fitness every day?  I think a lot of moms feel guilty and give up with their fitness routines even though it is something they enjoy.

Well guess what.  I found a solution!

QUIT THE GYM.  You don’t need it!  In the summer months, I absolutely love working out in the sunshine.  I can go in my backyard, spend twenty or thirty minutes jumping around while getting a great dose of Vitamin D, burning off a ton of calories, melting away stress and getting a pretty good tan!  Working out in my backyard cuts out driving to and from the gym and also increases the intensity of my workout without the downtime of waiting for machines or free weights to become available.  Work hard, finish up and get on with your day!  The best part is you don’t need a babysitter.  I go outside with a baby monitor and get my workout in during my toddler’s nap-time.  I also manage to workout with my older son outside, as long as I set him up with enough to keep himself busy.  Give him some toy tractors and dirt and he will be busy all day.  🙂

I know it can be hard to get started in a new routine, but how amazing you will feel afterwards is entirely worth it.  This workout uses a jump rope and an interval timer.  If you don’t have a jump rope, substitute with high knees.  If you don’t have an interval timer, download the app here for iPhone and here for Android.

On to the workout!

This is a twenty-minute high-intensity interval workout.  Set your interval timer for two intervals, the first ten seconds rest (0:10) and the second fifty seconds work (0:50) for twenty repetitions.

Perform one workout in each fifty-second work interval.

  • Jump rope or high knees.  (See how to do high knees here.)
  • Mountain climbers.  (See how to do mountain climbers here.)
  • Jump rope or high knees.
  • Competition Burpees.  (See how to do competition burpees here.)

Repeat this set five times to complete your twenty-minute HIIT.  Push as hard as you can during the work intervals.  Also, make sure you do a light five-minute warm up consisting of jumping jacks and other light cardio.  Cool-down is also important, so stretch out after your workout is complete!  Check out FitnessBlender on YouTube for warm-up and cool-down ideas.

Looking for more HIIT workout ideas?  Check out my favorite YouTube trainers, FitnessBlender or Melissa Bender.  They have hundreds of free workouts you can do from home.  Many days I stream the workout real-time and do it with them.  It makes it easier to keep myself motivated that way.  Try it out and let me know what you think in the comments below!

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