If you saw my post on Friday about food and behavior, then you know that I feel passionate about what food does to children when they eat it. I have to say, that I have had these strong feelings for a while, but my son’s diagnosis with Celiac Disease in July has just confirmed my beliefs and swept away any doubt that I may have had before.
I have worked with kids for over 10 years, and have come to think of myself as an expert – especially on the little ones. I understand discipline and the emotional needs of children, as well as the importance of follow through and their need for attention. When I had kids of my own and they started to grow up, I assumed I would be a pretty good mom since I knew so much about how to handle a classroom full of kindergarten students each day. When every trick and concept that I knew was no longer helping or working with my own child, I knew that there was something just off with my son, that was keeping him from behaving to his utmost potential.
Let me first say, my son, Meade, is the greatest, sweetest, most loving and caring little boy. He is “all boy” and rambunctious and wild and crazy and loves sports. He has a heart of gold and makes me more proud than you could ever imagine. He is smart and funny and makes me laugh each and every day. And never in my life did I expect or want him to be perfect, or like any other child other than himself. But, I did want him to be successful – both in life and in school. When he wasn’t progressing emotionally the way I felt other kids his age were progressing, I noticed. When he struggled with bits and pieces of language development, I noticed (and stalked the Speech and Language teachers at my school for guidance). When he seemed to not be able to manage or control himself at times, I noticed. And here’s why: I am a teacher. I notice these things about kids. And I especially noticed them with my son. I am betting that a lot of moms – a lot of good moms even, may not have noticed, because they don’t deal with kids all day long, but I was concerned.
My first concern was ADHD, or something along those lines. I hate medicating kids, and hate having to hold those conversations with parents when I am responsible for their schooling, but it was obvious that AT TIMES Meade could not control his impulses appropriately. My son, who was raised right, and loved each and every day, was finding ways to bother and taunt his peers at daycare. A lot of people would say that this is NORMAL, and that all kids bother each other, but I didn’t think it was right. I am not a mom that doesn’t watch her kids or neglected to teach them right from wrong. I teach my children and my students expectations, and they know the consequences if that expectation isn’t met. It worked for my students, but not my own son. The thoughts plowed through my head – asking myself if I would have to medicate him before sending him to kindergarten. I remember telling my husband more than once, “I will NOT send him to kindergarten (unmedicated) if he continues to act like that”. I have dealt with kids that needed ADHD medicine to be successful in the classroom, and I knew that Meade was occasionally showing signs of this.
Please notice that I continually say OCCASIONALLY or AT TIMES. Meade was not like this all the time. He would have weeks where we would be great, and then really, really bad days where I couldn’t put my finger on why he was uncharacteristically grouchy or bad. He would hold it together at school, and then unload on my sister at daycare afterwards. What in the world was making my GOOD kid so BAD?? If you ask me, it was his diet.
When researching information about some of my students, my sister was telling me about a book one of her daycare families gave her. It was called Why Can’t My Child Behave? I became immediately obsessed with it, recommending it to any of my parents who struggled with their child’s behavior at home or school. This is where my obsession with the students’ diets started, and where to this day, I am still working on understanding my own child’s diet and behavior connections. At the time of this, my son was only a year or so old. I distinctly remember introducing finger foods to him and having his first bad reaction to foods. I gave him Fruity Cheerios (like Fruit Loops in a safer Cheerio size). The next few days, his skin broke out with red bumps – I attributed it to the large amount of dyes in the food, and quickly removed it from his diet (the cereal, not the dyes). I should have looked closer into which dye specifically was causing the reaction…but I didn’t, and we still struggle with dyes to this day.
One of the stories of the book stuck out in my mind. A family that was struggling with behavior noticed that their child was uncharacteristically good whenever they were sick. They were on a strict diet of chicken noodle soup and crackers while ill – and when all of the crazy dyes and chemicals were eliminated from their diet, their child’s behavior significantly improved. They had times where they were great, and times when they were difficult. This reminded me so much of my own son. I remember a particularly rough time last Spring. With Valentines Day, their birthdays in late February, followed by my birthday in March, and Easter not long after, I remember being extremely concerned when Meade’s behavior started to spiral downward fast. He was struggling.
The thing that makes me most upset – with myself – is that I didn’t just go with my gut. I didn’t know how to tell family and friends that we “just don’t eat that stuff”. I was worried about opinions and eye rolling and people thinking I was crazy. We didn’t have a doctors note, but I knew that it wasn’t good for him, and yet we did nothing about it. Mom fail.
In the Spring was the time that Maggie was discovering her illness and we were able to find out what was wrong with her. As we researched Celiac Disease and found out the genetic tendencies, I was super anxious to get myself and my family tested to see if we were also dealing with issues from gluten. I am not going to lie, I prayed and hoped for a positive diagnosis for myself. Not because I wanted to be sick, but because I wanted to have a REASON to change my lifestyle without judgment. When my test came back negative, I was glad, but secretively a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t have that doctor’s excuse to say no to crappy food forever. So annoying that I felt I needed a reason to make healthier decisions for me and my family.
Our pediatrician told me that since I was negative, he didn’t feel it necessary to test the boys since they were so young. I totally agreed with him – until I went to Meade’s end of the year school celebration. Hot. Mess. The kindergarten teacher’s kid was acting a FOOL up on stage. Talking, laughing, pretend falling down, walking over to the teacher to get his shoe tied mid-performance. He was “that” kid. I was mortified and I was DONE. THAT was not my son. My son is respectful and kind and a rule-follower. He is so not the kid that acts that way during special occasions. Or so I thought. He genuinely could not help himself. And now I know, it was because he was being poisoned by the foods I was feeding him on a daily basis.
The whole grain breads and pastas, were bogging his brain down and making him “bipolar” as I referred to it. He would be great one day, and uncharacteristically emotional the next. He would have days where he would be a grouch from sun up ’til sun down, and days where things couldn’t have gone smoother. He genuinely had no control over himself at times, and I feel so badly that I let it go that long and didn’t listen to my gut and get him tested much earlier. With that being said, I would have never thought about gluten as the trigger. I always attributed his behavior to dyes and chemicals – which I still think effect him. But, since going gluten free in July, my son is a changed kid. So happy. So successful. He always wanted to be good and do the right thing – and I am so glad that we have finally cleared his body and brain from the poison that wasn’t allowing him to be who he wanted to be 100% of the time.
Food does effect our children. If your child struggles with behavior and you can’t explain why, please consider talking to your doctor and taking a close look into his or her diet. I know that I wish more than anything to go back and do it over again. I wish I would have changed his diet so much sooner and put an end to so many difficult times and situations. If you have questions about your child’s behavior or need help or answers about anything I wrote about today, please feel free to email me at Adie4fitsis@gmail.com. I would be happy to talk more about my experiences or help you find your way to a healthier kid-friendly diet that works for the whole family.