Happy children

10 steps for happy children – part 1

Do you, or someone you know, have children who never seem to be happy? Many children today are lost in an immersive world of social media and online gaming, with insufficient time to enjoy their childhood years. This, however, does not explain the inexplicable rise of childhood mental illness and chronic diseases that were once the realm of adults in their 60s! What has happened to our children over the past 30 years?

There are myriad things required to raise happy children. In this blog, I will focus on the health-related issues that impact their happiness. Specifically, we will discuss their nutritional and emotional needs.

The first five steps presented here are addressed as a series of questions often asked by children to you (their parents or caregivers):

1) What’s for breakfast?
2) Why am I so angry?
3) Can I have another treat?
4) Why I can’t do my homework?
5) Why is my tummy so sore?

Step 1: What’s for breakfast?

It is most unfortunate that, when it comes to breakfast, good advice on what best to feed your children is lacking. It is both contradictory and confusing. For instance, is there any value in “going” gluten-free or paleo? Here are some interesting article headlines I found online that add to the confusion:

  • “The truth about a gluten-free diet? It’s nonsense”
  • “New research proves eating a paleo diet for just eight weeks can lead to rapid weight gain”
  • “Fat, salt and sugar: not all bad”

To quote Chris Carter, the creator of The X-Files, “The truth is out there.” The problem is knowing where to find it! So let’s go ahead and identify the aliens in your attic, and the skeletons in your closet.
Let’s begin with the very first “food pyramid” shown here. Invented by the Swedes in the early 1970s, it was never intended to educate its citizens to eat healthier!

The purpose of the original food pyramid was to show the population what to eat with the onslaught of high food prices in Sweden. Apparently, it made sense to consume large quantities of nutritionally deplete white breads, cereals and grains.

Many children today are lost in an immersive world of social media and online gaming, with insufficient time to enjoy their childhood years.

On the topic of breads and cereals, it is worth noting that, even if your child is not “gluten intolerant”, their bodies have never evolved to consume large quantities of grains. Consider also glyphosate (commonly called “Roundup”), the ubiquitous insecticide that is sprayed on virtually every wheat crop worldwide and is known to be highly toxic. For a further discussion of gluten, read this previous blog.

Do you want to know what to feed your child for breakfast? Start looking at the populations which have the healthiest and longest lifespans.

In modern times, one of the most beneficial dietary plans is to adopt basic elements of the  Mediterranean diet, and make a concerted effort to reduce excessive grain consumption. As with every dietary change, it is essential to consult your healthcare professional before making major changes.

Step 2: Why am I so angry?

Children do not always express their concerns or upsets to parents, teachers or caregivers. There are a number of reasons for this including shame, the fear of rejection and a lack of social skills. Negative emotions, when not dealt with or unresolved, get stored in a child’s body leaving an “imprint” in their subconscious. This can sometimes also be reflected in their behaviour. Chiropractors and other physical therapists have known and recognise that these negative emotions can result in chronic muscle tension.

Please note that not every part of a child’s muscle tension is due to emotional or mental stress but it does illustrate how negative emotions may manifest themselves in their bodies. Health and wellness educator Louise Hay provides an excellent visual resource to understand the impact of unresolved negative emotions. This “emotional pain chart” is shown below:

While I claim no credit for being an expert in this area, readers can find many excellent resources online including the Kids Matter website. This Australian initiative aims at improving the mental health and wellbeing of all primary and preschool-aged children. The take-home message is not if, but how, negative emotions affect your child. The website has published an excellent infographic on both the risk factors and protective factors that impact their wellbeing (see below). The astute reader will appreciate that every one of the five areas shown (the child, family, school, life events and social environment) all require competency in inter- and intrapersonal communication. On this point, the question that demands an answer is: Why are our educational institutions not teaching these essential life-coping skills?

Step 3: Can I have another treat?

We have all experienced the highs and lows of the sugar treadmill. A recent study by the University of Sydney found more than 70 per cent of children aged 4-18 exceeded the recommended daily amount of sugar! The majority of sugar was not coming from breads, yogurts or cereals but from sweet breads, cakes and “treats”.

What is the impact of high daily sugar intake on your child? A high-sugar diet may lead to the following:
1) Suppression of your child’s immune system
2) Poorer behaviour
3) Reduced learning potential
4) An increased risk of developing diabetes
5) Promotion of obesity: it’s not only fat that makes you fat!

A good idea is to replace “free sugar” treats and snacks with more nutritious foods that reduce the impact of your child’s blood sugar levels. The best measure of this impact is the “glycemic  index” (GI), a term coined by Professor David Jenkins. The index describes what happens to your blood glucose levels two hours after the food or liquid is ingested. Vegetables and some fruits have a low impact on blood sugar and hence a low GI. White bread, sweets and corn flakes, by comparison, will spike their blood glucose levels sharply.

Step 4: Why can’t I do my homework?

If your child routinely “does not understand” their homework or is not able to follow simple instructions, then the problem may lie in their brain function and not their attitude. A healthy child’s brain needs many things for optimal function. Here are my top five recommendations:

1) Fish (or fish oil)
An excellent source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3s are used as the building block for our brain cells. Omega-3s have also been shown to reduce depression and improve memory skills. Take care though not to consume large quantities of fish high in mercury such as tuna, mackerel and shark.

2) Eggs
The egg yolk improves memory development and the sulfur content helps eliminate heavy metals. Always choose organic eggs whenever possible to avoid toxins.

3) Cruciferous vegetables
These include broccoli, bok choy and cabbage. They contain special compounds called indoles, known for their anti-cancer effects. Children have a tendency to develop oestrogen dominance early in life due to dietary factors and environmental toxins. Regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables can help reduce these levels.

4) Vitamin B supplements
An age-appropriate daily dose of high-grade vitamin B is essential. Deficiency causes several mental symptoms including forgetfulness, moodiness and dizziness. There are actually 13 different B vitamins (such as thiamine, niacin and vitamin B12) and they are all water soluble. Some children inherit a permanent vitamin B deficiency state called “pyrrole disease” that increases their requirement for vitamin B even more. These vitamins are also essential for the formation of stomach acid. Without stomach acid, malabsorption and malnutrition will occur.

5) Calcium intake
Cultured cheeses, eggs and spinach are just some sources of calcium. Calcium is a mineral needed by growing bodies for nerve function, blood clotting and healthy teeth.

Step 5: Why is my tummy is so sore?

Sore tummies and gastrointestinal upsets are surprisingly common in children. The danger signs to look for include the following:

1) An enlarged (bloated) stomach or belly
If this is regular occurrence, then a food intolerance, candida overgrowth or dysbiosis may be present. The word “dysbiosis” means an imbalance and overgrowth of fungal and bad bacteria. This happens fairly quickly after a single course of antibiotics and can take more than 12 months for the normal gut flora to be reestablished. A concerted effort to restore normal gut function is paramount to health.

2) Abnormal bowel movements
Either chronic constipation or diarrhoea are warning signs that digestive problems are present. Seek the help of a knowledgeable health practitioner to determine the actual cause of the problem. A child who suffers with a thyroid disorder, hormonal imbalance or a poor diet may lead to chronic constipation or diarrhea.

3) Reflux disease
Regular belching, burping and symptoms of heartburn may give you a clue that reflux disease may be present. Sometimes the only sign is that your child’s teeth are affected by stomach acid. Reflux also has many causes including insufficient stomach acid production (the valve at the top of the stomach only shuts off when stomach becomes more acidic), bacterial infection, incompatible food choices and obstructive sleep apnea. If your child has a narrow jaw and worn-down yellow teeth, this may be the first sign of breathing problems at night. If night-time breathing problems are not corrected, energy levels will be poor and concentration will be impaired due to poor oxygen circulation to the brain.

In the second part of this blog, I will discuss five more steps to happier children.

Dr Nader Malik

Dr Nader Malik

Dr Nader Malik is a cosmetic and integrative dentist whose core treatment philosophy is to make a visible difference to the lives of his patients so that they can be inspired to laugh, smile and share the same experience with others! As a whole-body dentist, he focuses on understanding and treating the strong links between the teeth and the rest of the body. He also enjoys working with medical doctors and allied health professionals to ensure the best outcomes for his patients. Dr Malik practises at Our Medical Dental in Penrith, NSW Australia.

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