Some parents swear that sugar doesn’t cause hyperactivity in their children. See what nutritionist Cheryl Forberg and pediatrician Jennifer Helmcamp have to say about children, sugar and hyperactivity.
Children don’t always have the skills or ability to use words to describe what is going on in their brain or body. Sometimes they don’t know, other times they just don’t have the words. Even if it’s true, you’re not likely to find a 4 year old saying “Excuse me Mommy, but the sugar from that candy plus the nap I missed are really making it hard for me to sit down and stop shrieking.” Know what I mean?
On the other hand, their behavior itself is a fantastic clue about what’s going on. When a child is behaving in some inappropriate way, ask yourself what that behavior would tell you if you looked at it as though it was a message spoken in a foreign language. Translate it, and see what your child is saying. Here are a few examples:
What your child is doing: Hiding behind your legs when meeting someone new.
What it means/what they need: I’m feeling uncomfortable and a little scared. I need to be reassured and some gentle physical touch would help a lot. Do my talking for me so I can watch and warm up at my own speed.
What your child is doing: Coming to you, interrupting what you are doing with endless questions when you know they already know the answer.
What it means/what they need: I need more of your attention. I want you to stop what you are doing for at least a moment to play with me, talk to me, ask me how I am or what is up with me.
What your child is doing: Running in to the street/away from you.
What it means/what they need: I can’t handle being in charge of my body right now. I need you to hold my hand, or take me somewhere safer, or carry me, etc.
What your child is doing: Hitting their sibling.
What it means/what they need: (This is a tough one—it can mean many different things, but here’s a most likely suspect:) I am feeling such strong feelings that I can’t seem to control them appropriately. I need your help managing myself and making safe choices.
What your child is doing: Being defiant, talking back!
What it means/what they need: This one is tough, because it can mean a LOT of different things. Here’s a typical translation for young children: “I am really angry/upset right now—maybe with you about what you are saying, or maybe about something unrelated to you.” Either way, I need you to stay calm, acknowledge my strong feelings, and help me practice expressing my feelings in appropriate ways.
There are many, many different messages that our children’s behaviors can be sending, but the need for more attention, more support, more reassurance, and more limits are very common ones for the younger kids. Stay tuned for how to translate your teenager’s behaviors next!
A review of data gathered as part of the ongoing Early Childhood Longitudinal Study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine reports some startling findings on childhood obesity.
- Babies who weigh more than nine pounds at birth are more likely to be heavier in grade school. More than one-third of overweight elementary school children were big babies.
- Children who are overweight in kindergarten are four times as likely as other children to be obese by middle school. During kindergarten, 5% of children who weren’t overweight at the start of the year became overweight by the end of the year.
- The period of greatest change from “normal” weight to obesity happens in early elementary school, between first and third grades. Patterns of overweight change very little between 11 and 14. Nonetheless, between ages 5 and 14, almost 12% of children are or become obese: 10% of girls and nearly 14% of boys.
What does all this mean?
- It means that a tendency to become overweight and obese starts early – even at birth.
- It means that children at the age when we might regard chubbiness as cute and just “puppy fat” actually are at risk for maintaining their extra poundage throughout childhood and into the teen years.
- It means that the old assumption that children will “grow into” their weight might be not quite right.
What should we do?
Well, we shouldn’t be complacent about children’s weight. But at the same time that we shouldn’t put children “on a diet.” Keep in mind that children do not shop for their own food or prepare their own meals. To change our children’s future, we must first change our own present behavior.
1. If you’re pregnant, watch your weight. Yes, it’s easy to gain weight when you’re eating for two, but women who gain more weight during pregnancy are more likely to have larger babies. As we’ve seen, large babies begin life with a weight problem already underway. So keep your pregnancy weight under control.
2. Feed your children well. Nutrition is a zero-sum game. There’s a limited amount of space in children’s tummies and if it’s filled up with junk food, there’s no room left for more nutritious fare. Start right now to eliminate sugary treats, packaged foods, frozen foods, and fast food. Never permit a child to drink soda, especially diet soda, and cut way, way back on juice.
3. Keep only nutritious food in the house. You cannot have a secret stash of Oreos if you expect your children to avoid eating them. Kids can’t eat what’s not available but if you’ve bought something to snack on when the children nap, you’ve let your enemy in through the front door. You know you don’t need that stuff either. Now is the time to give it up.
4. Keep your children active. Make being active what your family does, instead of letting what your family does be watching TV or playing video games. Reading is great, and playing with Legos is lovely but balance those with lots and lots of active play.
Head off overweight early. Don’t give it a place in your home. Start now to change basic habits in ways that will put your entire family on a healthier path.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.