FEEDING YOUR LITTLE ONE'S BRAIN
Hunger is stress. Lack of food causes stress in the brain due to the lack of nutrients it needs. This causes stress hormones to be released resulting in a possible lack of attention, behavior problems, and the brain generally not functioning at optimal levels.
However, good nutrition can lead to increased serotonin (feel good chemical) levels in the brain and happier children spending more time playing and learning. Nutrition is often only thought of in relation to the body. But, what is good for the body is also good for the brain. Making sure your child has enough time for a good breakfast can make a remarkable difference. Ensuring each breakfast includes adequate amounts of protein will contribute to a more content child with a better functioning brain. A healthy and relaxed breakfast can also reduce cravings for “junk food” throughout the day.
With a very busy schedule or a disrupted routine it is easy for the behavior of children (and adults) to be easily affected by hunger. Providing simple carbohydrate foods in an attempt to combat hunger will result in a child feeling (and behaving) even worse. Sugary foods (or beverages) eaten on an empty stomach instead of healthy foods will result in a crabby and possibly hyperactive child only 30 minutes later. Again, this occurs due to the brain not getting the nutrients it needs.
Young children’s brains are not developed enough to handle all they are feeling. Controlling the agitation, lack of focus and anxiety a child feels as a result of lack of nutrients (and some of the other hungers I’m going to mention) is too difficult for a still maturing brain. This is why it is called, “out of control” behavior. Your understanding of this is invaluable to a child.
It is also helpful to realize that the brain also has hungers for structure, recognition, and stimulation.
Children prefer the structure and routine that feels comforting and calming when they can anticipate what is going to be happening in their lives. When the brain feels the security of predictability this leads to increased cooperation. A familiar routine decreases anxiety and stress for both adults and children.
A child wants your attention and recognition. Attention helps a child know they are valued and important. Children ideally want recognition for positive behaviors. However, if good behavior doesn’t get attention, a child will resort to negative behaviors to get the need met. It is easy to have your attention focused on many other things throughout a busy day. But, if you take the time to recognize your child’s need for some of your attention, things are likely to go much smoother and will likely lead to the child feeling secure enough to play independently for longer periods.
The brain likes stimulation. It is curious and likes novelty. Lack of stimulation feels like stress to the brain. When adults have to wait for an appointment or are standing in line, etc. we find something to read or something to do. Children’s brains do the same thing. A child will create an incident to stimulate their brain. This is likely to include the need to have physical activity. Even daydreaming is a stimulating activity in the brain. Some adult focused activities during the day may not be stimulating to a child’s brain. Keeping this in mind and allowing for and building in child focused activities will keep a child behaving in more positive ways.
Using this valuable information will lead to strengthening the highest functioning areas of the brain that enhance a child’s ability to self-regulate. Ultimately, feeding all of the hungers of the brain will contribute to more loving, caring, sharing, fun, laughter, hugs and smiles together.
Written by: D McNelis
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