Being a parent is a tough job, right?
Not only is having a child like watching your heart walk around outside of your body all day, but we also get to second guess all of our decisions & wonder if we’ve ever even doing it right. Good times. As a parent, you are teacher, cook, house keeper & chauffeur. You’re nurse, seamstress & counselor too. But what happens when your child has issues that aren’t so easily solved? Going through our own struggles with Arthur & the GAPS Diet, I am a firm believer that parent intuition is just as strong as any modern machines. We’ve seen first hand how diet changes can affect him – positively & negatively. We’ve seen food be his medicine & prayer be our solace.
Today, I’m excited to share a guest post from my friend, Jaclyn. Jaclyn blogs over at The Family That Heals Together & she has quite a remarkable story of her own that I’m excited to have her share with you.
If you’ve dealt with a child who suffers from anger issues, shows defiance & aggression or you’ve ever felt like you just can’t ‘manage’ your child then Jaclyn’s story of hope is for you.
Jaclyn was able to identify that her son was suffering from Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD. Not only was she able to see this, she’s also been able to manage his symptoms naturally – through food & supplements.
It was a couple of years ago when I realized that my son’s abnormal anger and aggression were symptoms of something more. I had fought an internal battle for so long, telling myself I just wasn’t parenting him well, that I missed the signs that there was something more serious going on. It didn’t matter what form of discipline I tried or how hard I tried to correct his behavior, because, ultimately, it was something he couldn’t control. Once I took to the internet to research his extreme behavior, I found the answer I was looking for: he was suffering from Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD.
To be truthfully honest, when I had briefly read about ODD in the past, it seemed like an excuse for poor parenting. Good parents don’t have children who talk back, react to instruction with anger, or have trouble obeying and following the rules, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, and children suffering from ODD have trouble controlling their emotions and following rules, despite parents’ best efforts.
Even though I was raising my children to be compassionate, to obey and follow rules, and to treat other people with respect, my oldest son consistently failed to consider other people’s feelings, always demanding his own way and making sure his younger brothers complied with his wishes. When he was seven, he would hit his two-year-old brother if he had a toy he wanted. He had a hard time on his brothers’ birthdays, unable to accept a day devoted solely to another child. And if my husband or I had to correct his behavior, he would become angry and refuse to obey. At times I feared his violent reactions to his brothers and myself.
Thankfully, I have discovered how to treat ODD naturally, and today, we rarely see a symptom of the disorder. Below, I’ll tell you the ten things I’ve learned about how to treat ODD in children.
Ways to treat odd in children
1. Realize it’s not your fault
If you are constantly down on yourself as a parent, fighting the internal battle I once was, telling yourself you don’t measure up, you cannot be a healthy parent for your child. Begin to change your internal dialog and recognize that you are a good parent. You are the parent your child needs, hand-picked for him, and equipped to handle his behavioral problems. Some days are tough, boy are they tough, but recognize that you are stronger than you think and you can parent your child better than anyone else, because you know him and love him better than anyone else.
2. Cut out artificial colors, sweeteners, and preservatives
It’s becoming more and more common knowledge that artificial colors cause behavioral problems in children. This is certainly true for children with ODD, and I have definitely observed these food additives turning my son from his sweet, normal self, into a an angry, defiant child for whom nothing is going right. Watch for these ingredients on food labels under names like Red 40, FD & C Lakes, or just “artificial colors.” Any color on a food label should be a red flag. As for artificial sweeteners, you can find them on labels under the names acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, and sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol. Preservatives to watch out for include sulfates/sulfites, nitrates/nitrites, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), potassium bromate, and sodium benzoate. These artificial ingredients are categorized as “excitotoxins,” which means they excite neurotransmitters and cause damage to brain cells. This is not an exhaustive list and you should continue to educate yourself about these harmful ingredients.
3. Remove gluten
Gluten is another excitotoxin for some people, particularly children with behavioral problems. It poses trouble for a number of reasons. Did you know some foods actually create a morphine-like reaction for some people? Yep, eating gluten can make your kid feel like he’s high. Can you imagine trying to control your emotions while essentially “tripping” on gluten? Gluten produces a substance called “gluteomorphin” which becomes like an opiate to the brain, causing brain fog, as well as addiction. This is why so many children with behavioral problems crave starchy breads and carbohydrates: the opiate-like effect they get from eating these foods makes them crave more.Additionally, for those who have trouble digesting gluten, it sits undigested in the gut and creates leaky gut syndrome, which allows foods to leak through the gut instead of being absorbed and used appropriately by the body. This creates more trouble for the brain, as undigested proteins travel to the brain and create interference with neurotransmitter communications, plus this leaky gut syndrome causes malabsorption of key nutrients needed for brain health.
4. Consider removing all grains
Oftentimes, parents say “we tried removing gluten and it didn’t make any difference for us.” Unfortunately, there are other grains that can be allergenic and problematic for children with ODD, aside from those containing gluten. There are a couple of considerations about grains: some are just plain allergenic (like corn), and some just increase the starch load, contributing to poor gut health. For instance, white rice is less likely to cause an allergic reaction, but for children with poor gut health, it make be difficult to digest and can contribute to leaky gut. Because grains can be difficult to digest in the first place, we’ve found that eliminating them completely has been the best choice for our son. Additionally, we have pinpointed corn as a major trigger for ODD episodes! For a while, I assumed corn would be an occasional safe, gluten-free option… until I realized my son would become angry and defiant within hours of eating corn! You can read more about our experience with corn as an ODD trigger here.
5. Reduce sugar intake
The big, bad, sugar monster. We could all use a little less of it, but why is it so hard to kick the sugar habit? Well, there is actually a scientific reason. Like gluten, our bodies sometimes crave the very thing that harms them. Eating sugar begets the desire to eat more sugar. When we eat sugar, we feed bad bacteria and yeasts in our gut and they begin to thrive, cramming out the good bacteria. As they grow and take over, they demand to be fed, causing you to want to eat what they need: sugar! When our family first eliminated sugar, we did a 30 day challenge without the white stuff. We replaced regular sugar with more natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey, and once we saw that this was actually a pretty easy switch, we’ve never looked back. Now, we can pinpoint behaviors brought on by too much sugar consumption, even natural sugar like honey. We’ve even reduced fruit to help minimize the overall sugar load for our son, and his hyperactivity continues to diminish. But we have taken baby steps in the process, and each family has to find a path that works for them in reducing sugar.
6. Use magnesium
We have found that a special type of magnesium has proven very beneficial for our son’s brain health. I had tried various forms of magnesium for years, with no improvement, but it wasn’t until our holistic practitioner told us about a new form of magnesium, formulated especially for brain health, that I found something that worked. Magnesium threonate, developed and studied by researchers at MIT, has been found to restore the function of aging neurons. In other words, it helps your brain work better. Magnesium is essential for cellular functioning and critical for brain health, and we have found that magnesium threonate improves brain function for our son. I’ve even found that it helps with headaches and fatigue myself! I wrote in depth about the magnesium supplement we use here.
7. Support detox pathways and liver
Some kids (and people) have trouble eliminating toxins because their body’s detox mechanisms don’t function well. Sometimes this is due to genetic mutations and sometimes it’s just due to toxic overload. Either way, it’s important to assist our bodies in detoxing because we are inundated with toxins every single day, even those of us striving to live a toxin-free life. Between pesticides and lawn chemicals in the air around us, to WIFI and other dirty electricity surrounding us, our bodies have a lot to contend with. We have found that by giving our son frequent detox baths, making sure he’s eliminating (using the bathroom at least once a day), and giving him lots of water to drink, we can help him flush out toxins that otherwise might accumulate in his body. Additionally, we support his liver with supplements like Liver Life and desiccated liver and try to make fresh-pressed juices as often as we can, mostly with organic vegetables, with a little fruit. We especially enjoy juicing celery, cucumber, green apples and lemon for a refreshing lemonade-like juice.
8. Increase good fats
Did you know the brain is made primarily of fat? This means it needs fat to thrive! Most pediatricians will tell you to switch to low fat milk when your child turns two, but the advice to feed children a low-fat diet really deprives them of needed nutrients, particularly those needed for brain health. We have found that by switching to whole, raw milk and cultured dairy products (not a good option for everyone, but dairy works for us), eating coconut oil, avocado oil and olive oil, as well as lots of butter, we are able to give our son the fats he needs for his brain to function better. Another excellent option for fat needed for brain health is fish oil. While there has been lots of controversy it is still important to find a good source of omega fats. Seeds like chia and flax are actually a poor source of omega fats because they are hard for our bodies to convert to the fats our brains can actually use, which is why it is important to find a source of omegas that are easily assimilated by our bodies. Personally, our family uses extra virgin cod liver oil.
9. Show unconditional love and support
At his lowest, our son has struggled with self esteem. When symptoms of ODD began to emerge for him, I noticed something very disturbing: after the worst of the anger and defiance would pass, he would get very low. He would say things like “our family would be better off without me” or “I don’t belong in this family.” It was very discouraging and broke my heart to hear him say those things. But I would try to keep things in perspective and remember that he wasn’t himself and that his brain wasn’t functioning properly when he was saying those things. Instead of getting angry or trying to exert any type of discipline, I would just love on him during these episodes. Like really, really love on him. Once, when he was having a particularly bad episode (it was his brother’s birthday AND we had eaten poorly to celebrate, so he got a double whammy!), I went into his room, and when he refused my attempts at hugging him, instead shutting himself in his closet, I began to clean his room for him. When he calmed down and came out and saw that I’d done an act of service and love for him, he was overwhelmed with feeling loved and appreciated my taking the time to do something nice for him. For whatever reason, this worked for him. Find out what will speak your child’s love language and do it. Remind him that even if he feels worthless, you hold him in high esteem and he’s an important part of your family, one that you love and cherish!
10. Ride it out
When all else fails, we just ride the wave of whatever episode we’re dealing with. My son’s ODD used to last for hours, sometimes days. It was so hard not to become angry during those times, in fact, I often did become angry, because my child was standing there telling me he refused to do what I was telling him to do. He would be so angry for no real reason, and my instinct was to discipline him and force him to obey. For a child with ODD, this is a bad approach, and in my experience, only causes matters to get worse. As I would get angry, he would get angrier. It was during these times of extreme anger (from both of us) that would result in him later feeling badly about himself. Once my husband and I realized he couldn’t control these episodes and discipline of any sort did nothing to curb the behavior, we gave ourselves permission to just ride it out. To some extent, we even learned to ignore the angry outbursts. As long as our son wasn’t hurting anyone, there was really no point in arguing with him or trying to make him see things our way. His brain becomes foggy during these episodes and until the fog clears, there is absolutely no sense in trying to reason with him. So instead of reasoning, bargaining, or punishing, we wait til it passes, then we can talk later about what happened and why he felt that way. He usually admits that he ate something he shouldn’t have, which give us an opportunity to talk with him about “brain foods” and remind him why we eat the way we do.
Parenting a child with ODD is not for the faint of heart, but rest assured, it can get better! Diet changes can be hard work and take time to master, but seeing the fruits of your labor as your child’s behavior begins to improve provides the motivation needed to stick with it and continue to explore and discover what works best, diet and supplement-wise for your kiddo.
Have you noticed particular foods that bring out undesirable behaviors in your child?
About the author:
When Jaclyn became a mom more than eight years ago, health food was the last thing on her mind, but when her oldest son began to struggle with behavioral problems early in life, she dove in headfirst to begin learning about how to live and eat naturally. Since then, her children have been healed of eczema and digestive problems and her own thyroid disorder has been healed. Best of all, her son’s behavior continues to improve as he heals through diet. As she continues to fight for her family’s health and well-being, Jaclyn focuses on GAPS-diet and Paleo foods with an emphasis on nourishing and healing foods like broth and homemade sauerkraut. You can read more about the story behind The Family That Heals Together here. Find her on Instagram or Facebook.
Jaclyn has also created a group on Facebook (Heal Together Community), where members encourage and uplift each other as they work to heal their own bodies and families. On October 5th, Jaclyn will lead the group in an eight week baby-steps program to better health! If you’d like to join, send a request here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/healtogethercommunity/15