The choice to medicate your child is such a hot topic in the field right now, and a very personal choice to make for your child and your family. Not every family has the means or time to navigate a holistic lifestyle, and sometimes even when they do, from a neurological standpoint, medication may be necessary to see an improvement in a child’s behavior.
From a brain health perspective, troubleshooting the areas of sleep, diet, exercise, outside time, structure and reinforcement systems will help stabilize and reduce problem behaviors without the need for medication. We always suggest attempting to troubleshoot these areas before considering a medical intervention for your child. At Behaved Brain, we refer to these holistic behavioral categories as our “7 Foundations of Brain Health.” You can download my free e-book on this here.
For trouble shooting sleep, the national sleep foundation has a wealth of information on optimal sleep requirements detailed on their website. About 80% of the children we see at our office are sleep deprived, or not getting the required amount of sleep. Sleep, both quality and quantity, are vital in creating healthy brain habits in children. This also means limiting access to screens and lights before bed (up to 2 hours).
When trouble shooting a child’s diet, Dr. Amen has a lot of excellent suggestions for that in his book, “The Brain Warrior’s Way.” The idea is really to limit and eliminate most sugars and all processed foods and oils. Look to feed children healthier foods, mostly from nature. Fatty acids and Omega’s can be found in salmon, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Check out our past article on getting Omega’s in your diet for more options.
The amount of exercise and outdoor time, as well as time to use imaginary play, is at an all time low for our children today. It is vital to higher-level academic performance for children to be active, imaginative and outdoors. A number of studies have linked high IQ’s and academic success to outdoor time and use of imaginary play. Children should be exposed to a number of sensory aspects while learning. This creates a strong foundation. Make sure to supplement this if your child is not in a learning environment that allows for this during the day. Increasing time outside can really reduce negative behaviors triggered by sensory and processing issues.
By using schedules and routine, and keeping consistent with discipline and boundaries, children are able to become aware of what the expectation is of them, and therefore, problem behaviors decrease. Often, problem behaviors are rooted in the child’s desire to control things they feel they have no control over. By working with your child, as well as other caregivers to create a consistent routine and predictability, you are setting your child up for success. This is most successful when done in a visual manner that the child can see and understand.
I really encourage the use of functional medicine in our practice. We have seen such huge improvements when gut health is resolved, and nutrient deficiencies are addressed. Common ailments such as fatigue, hyperactivity and anxiety can be rooted in poor gut health and imbalances.
All that being said, there are many times when, neurologically speaking, a balance can be reached with the right medical intervention. It can be very harmful to your child to not allow for medication in situations where they really need it. When a child is very aware of their own struggles, and how much more difficult activities are for them versus others, their self-esteem and self-confidence becomes impaired. It is never an easy decision to reach out for medication guidance, but for those who need it, often times the combination of integrative, medical and therapeutic services is the combination your child will thrive on.