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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I Was Shocked – Always Read Your Labels.

Before I had a child with food allergies and sensitivities, I would never read labels on things I would buy.  I thought if it was being sold in a store, it was safe to use or eat.  I trusted manufacturers and also that the government would not allow something bad to be included in food or body products.  I cannot believe how wrong I was!

I started reading labels only in the last few years.  Even for families without food allergies, it is really important.  After recently reading labels on a variety of products, I was pretty surprised at what I found.  Read on and be convinced to check your labels – know what you are consuming!  It really, really matters.

Aloe

Aloe

Just because it is a health food or product, it does not mean it is pure or chemical-free.  I purchased this brand of aloe online without reading the product label.  I bought it with the intention of making a firming eye gel, but now I’m not so comfortable using it for any purpose.  It contains carrageenan, which is added as a thickener.  Although it is extracted from a type of seaweed, it is not healthy.   When ingested, carrageenan causes an immune response which creates inflammation and has been linked to many digestive disorders.  It is found in a lot of organic foods, including baby formula and almond milk.  This is definitely an ingredient you want to avoid.

As far as using it externally, I don’t feel comfortable.  The skin is an organ and I do not want inflamed skin, especially under my eyes.  That is the opposite of what I was hoping for in making a firming eye gel.  Next time I will buy the organic version, which does not contain carrageenan.

This aloe also contains potassium sorbate as a preservative.  Potassium sorbate is listed as a moderate hazard on Ewg.org’s Skin Deep database.  I would prefer not to ingest this or put it on my skin.  I should have read my labels.

Beer Chips – Bloody Mary Chips

chips
My husband bought these chips at Costco.  I probably would not have picked them out and obviously potato chips are not a healthy food choice, but this particular brand made me mad.  As you can see by my yellow arrows above, the package claims there is “No MSG Added.”  I am not sure what they mean by added, but there most definitely is MSG in this product.  Labeled as “autolyzed yeast extract,”  MSG makes its under-cover appearance on the ingredient list.  According to the website Livestrong.com,

“Autolyzed yeast extract is a substance that results when yeast is broken down into its constituent components. It naturally contains free glutamic acid, or monosodium glutamate, and is often used as a less expensive substitute for MSG. As a natural component of autolyzed yeast extract, MSG does not have to be listed separately in the ingredients, so look for the yeast extract on the label if you’re sensitive to MSG.”  (Source)

Interestingly enough, I checked the FDA website to see what their guidelines are in regards to MSG and food packaging.  Here is what I found: (Emphasis is my own.)

“MSG occurs naturally in ingredients such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, and protein isolate, as well as in tomatoes and cheeses. While FDA requires that these products be listed on the ingredient panel, the agency does not require the label to also specify that they naturally contain MSG. However, foods with any ingredient that naturally contains MSG cannot claim “No MSG” or “No added MSG” on their packaging.”  (Source)

I must be misunderstanding something, because it looks to me like Beer Chips is breaking the FDA rules…

A brief note on MSG.

MSG is added to food as a flavor enhancer, tricking the brain into thinking the food tastes better than it does and thus causing you to eat more of it.  It is an excitotoxin which causes brain damage by exciting neurons to death.  Consumption of MSG can also result in weight gain by its ability to cause hormone fluctuations.  Small children are affected more than adults, which is very alarming to me.  According to the well-researched article on the website Food Renegade,

Humans are 20 times more sensitive to MSG than monkeys, 5 times more sensitive than rats.  We have glutamate receptors on every major organ, hard-wired into our brains, and even on the tip of our tongue! That means that one fifth the level of MSG used to cause obvious brain damage to a rat will do the same to you.

And what about growing babies? It turns out that MSG is especially harmful to pregnant or nursing mothers because infants and young children are four times more sensitive to MSG than adults!” (Source)

I have noticed MSG hidden in all kinds of things, including soups and a lot of processed packaged foods (especially potato chips – almost ALL of them).  The problem is that it is not listed as MSG.  It will often be listed as hydrolyzed corn, yeast extract, autolyzed yeast, etc.  For a comprehensive list of the product names in which MSG is present, check out this chart from TruthinLabeling.org.

Trader Joe’s Almond Butter

mash

I would be fine with the hidden cashews in this product, if my son wasn’t allergic to cashews.  As you can see from the front of the label, there is no mention of the cashews in this almond butter.  On the back, however, you see there is a very small amount of cashews contained.  For a person who experiences an anaphylactic response to cashews (swelling in his throat) even “less than 1%” can be a very big problem.  Fix your labels, Trader Joe’s!

Amy’s Soup (Non-organic only.) The soups which have “organic” in the title are high quality.

amySometimes I don’t feel like making soup from scratch.  Those days, I am super thankful for the Amy’s brand of organic soup.  I stress the word organic because it is my opinion that the non-organic soups are loaded with crap.  I read the label on the “Non Chicken Noodle” and placed it right back on the store shelf.  It contains sources of MSG.  And again, the label states “No Added MSG,” yet the FDA website prohibits products containing yeast extract from printing that claim on their label.  Regardless, this soup contains soy which is a top allergen, is estrogenic and causes inflammation.  It also has two sources of hidden MSG.  No thank you. 

V-8 V-Fusion Light

V8 comp

I accidentally grabbed a bottle of the V8 V-Fusion Light instead of the regular V-Fusion we buy for school lunches.  I know that juice is loaded with sugar, but my son won’t drink water at lunch anymore so I send juice in his bottle, watered down.  After I got home from the store and realized my mistake, I read the label to see how they made it “light.”  I found artificial sweetener, probably to make up the sweetness after adding a lot of water.  First of all, what a rip off, and second, what a bad trade-off.

These are just a few of the products which I found to contain less than desirable ingredients.  As a mother I want to keep my children’s environment as pure as possible, and diet is a huge part of that.

Have you found any bad ingredients in a product you trusted or loved?  Please share in the comments below.

Sources:

http://www.campbellfoodservice.com/details.aspx?code=1022

http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/carrageenan-natural-ingredient-you-should-ban-your-diet

http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm328728.htm

http://www.foodrenegade.com/msg-dangerous-science/

http://www.livestrong.com/article/71755-autolyzed-yeast-extract/

http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/search.php?query=potassium+sorbate&h=Search

Carrot Cake Pancakes with Cream Cheese Icing (Gluten-Free)

pancake header

My kids love pancakes.  I love pancakes too, simply because I can hide fruit or veggies without the kids knowing its there.  When we had to go gluten-free last summer due to allergies, we sadly stopped eating pancakes.  Our breakfast routine became really boring – eggs and sausage, eggs and bacon, repeat.  My 6-year-old doesn’t even like eggs anymore because I’ve made them way too many times.

On a recent shopping trip at Costco, I got really excited when I saw this gluten-free flour mix.  I grabbed it with Christmas cookies in mind, which turned out amazing.  I’ve found this is a perfect replacement for standard all-purpose flour and therefore the glorious pancake has returned to our breakfast menu!

Amazing gluten-free flour blend!

I keep preparing vegetables for dinner, wondering if this will be the time my kids decide they like it and eat it all.  It is never that time.  So the other morning I had a surplus of steamed carrots in my refrigerator and decided to try out a carrot cake pancake and get them to eat all the carrots.  Thank God for food processors which enable me to get away with my sneaky health-food-mongering.

I feel like I hit the jackpot with this recipe, only because the taste of the cinnamon plus the cream cheese icing tastes like a freakin’ Cinnabon!  A healthy Cinnabon, are you kidding me.  Heaven has arrived on Earth.  It may just be my pregnancy talking, but anything that is clean, real food and tastes like a Cinnabon is worth making weekly.  My kids really enjoy this breakfast treat, and I hope your family will too!

cakes


Carrot Cake Pancakes with Cream Cheese Icing (Gluten-Free) recipe

This recipe makes 15-20 pancakes.

Ingredients for the pancakes:
1 cup steamed carrots
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup almond milk (or milk of choice)
2 tbsp coconut oil (or grass-fed butter)
1 heaping cup of flour.  I used this gluten-free blend, it’s amazing!
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, plus more to sprinkle on finished pancakes
1/8 tsp nutmeg
4 tbsp coconut palm sugar (I like this brand)

Ingredients for the icing:
3 oz. cream cheese
2 tbsp raw, local honey
a splash of warm water

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients for the pancakes in a food processor.  Blend until smooth.
  2. Spoon batter onto a heated and greased pan.  Flip once the bottom edges begin to look cooked.  These pancakes are rather thick so press down on the cooked side with the spatula to help cook the inside of the pancake.
  3. To make the icing, place cream cheese in a bowl and blend with a fork until it becomes soft.  Add honey and blend thoroughly.  Add warm water and blend to desired consistency.
  4. Enjoy!