Thursday, July 22, 2010

Operation Buddy

This year, we went to Georgia to visit my husband's parents for our family vacation.  We all had a great visit and were fortunate to do some really fun things: swimming, Aviation Museum, World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium. We all loved spending time with Mimi and Poppy and we were sad to leave when it was time to go home.

The only unfortunate part of our trip was the constant fits from our 3 year old.  Our son can be extremely pleasant, sweet and affection one minute and then the next minute his world is falling apart because he didn't get his way.  This Jekyll/Hyde behavior was even worse while we were away - I'm sure that part of that was due to not being on his normal eating and sleeping schedule, but the reasons didn't lesson the stress of it all.  We were both at our wits end and knew that something needed to change. 

So, my husband and I put our heads together to come up with some sort of plan to help our little guy.  Here are some areas that we felt we needed to work on for our kids:

#1 - Diet
While we were driving, we happened to be listening to the John Tesh radio show.  He had a segment about how certain foods affect your mood.  He called them 'bad mood foods' and our son had been eating nothing but the whole week (chips, cookies, soda, crackers, more chips...).  I had asked God for help and seems as if John Tesh was part of that answer (who would have thought?!).
I did some online research and found all sorts of articles about how foods affect your mood.

"Bodies are like chemistry sets, she says. Everything you put in your body has a chemical effect, which is why food can affect your mood. It gets broken down into elements that can raise your blood sugar or drop it rapidly.", says Tatiana Morales from  So what are the bad mood foods to avoid?

(from MSN)
Feel-Bad Food Categories:
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine (large doses)
  • Fried Foods
  • Fatty Meats
  • Fatty Snack Foods
  • Refined Sugars and Starches (most often in packaged foods)
Obviously, we're not feeding our son alcohol, however, most of his diet while we were on vacation had been from the other categories (except meat since he is a self-proclaimed vegetarian).  French fries, chips, cookies, candy, soda - yep, all stuff that can contribute to having a bad mood.  I realize that as his mom, I'm to blame.  I simply didn't want to battle him over food while we were on vacation.  It was easier to just give him the fries.  Here's my little guy standing by what he loves the most: chocolate bars.

So what foods should a person eat to improve his/her mood?  Not surprisingly, it's the same healthy foods that we should all be eating each day:

(from CBS)
Mood Supporters
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Swimming fish
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Non-fat dairy products
  • Egg whites
  • Whole grains
I mentioned that my son is an extremely picky eater so we have had to get creative (he eats no meat, no vegetables and the only fruit he'll eat is an apple).  Here is his typical daily menu:
whole grain cereal (low-sugar), milk (or chocolate milk, made with low-sugar chocolate syrup)
apple slices w/ peanut butter, granola bar, cashews and V8 Fusion juice (one cup provides a full serving of fruits and veggies)
goldfish, organic fruit strip (made with 100% real fruit), popcorn (no butter, very little salt), my homemade healthy chocolate chip cookies (recipe to follow in another post...), almonds or Harvest Cheddar Sunchips (a whole grain alternative to his favorite, Dorritos)
apple sauce, yogurt, whole grain graham crackers and milk

His menu doesn't sound like much, but it's the only healthy food that I can get him to eat.  He takes a daily multi-vitamin to help make up for what he's not getting in his diet.  His daily protein intake comes from milk and nuts.  We do allow for an occasional treat (every kid needs a treat now and then!), but it's not a part of our daily intake.  The pediatrician says that he's getting his nutrients so I won't start worrying until she does.  So far, I have to say he's doing well on his diet and the fits have been fewer and far between.  It seems to be working.

Wanna read more?  Click the links:

#2 - Sleep Schedule
Luckily, my son is a great sleeper.  However, road trips and long summer days put us all off of our normal sleep schedules.  My kids get super grumpy when they are tired so we still have 'rest time' during the day.  I call it rest time for my daughter's sake - she's six years old and does not always require a nap, however, I do believe it's important for her to have some downtime during the day (I'll be honest here and let you know that the downtime is just as much for me as it is for them!).  I give her the option of playing quietly/reading books or sleeping.  More often than not, she chooses to nap. 

My son doesn't get a choice.  He must nap.  In fact, I make sure he does because if he doesn't, then he's a real pill come dinner time.  So, Buddy gets a nap each day and both kids are in bed by 8:30 (maybe a bit later on weekends).  Once they're down, they'll sleep for 10 to 12 hours.

#3 - Physical Activity
Too much TV and inactivity can often be a trigger for having a bad mood so we're limiting the boob tube and increasing activity.  I'm not making the kids run laps or anything, but they are naturally more active (and creative) when the TV is off.  To get more activity during the day, we take them to the Y, the park or the pool - or simply tell them to go play in the backyard.  More activity means a better appetite for eating the right foods and being more tired at bedtime - plus, the endorphins help, too.  

This fall, Ella will be taking ballet and Christian will either take karate or soccer.  I think they'll benefit from the physical activity, the social aspects and from the discipline of learning a new skill.

#4 - Less Whining, More Talking
Three year olds have it pretty hard at times.  They feel strong emotions, yet they do not know how to express their feelings in an acceptable way.  Often, sadness, frustration, exhaustion, anger, etc. come across the same way: whining, crying or screaming.  How can he know how to properly respond to his feelings if we do not teach him?  Both my husband and I agree that it's important for us to stay calm during his fits...this does not always happen, but it's something we're aiming for.  We have to model the right behavior before we can teach it.  Here's me having a bad day and modeling the incorrect behavior:

"You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." - Matthew 7:5 (the Bible)

My mom gave me some advice that a child psychologist gave her years ago when she was struggling with how to deal with my younger brother.  When the child throws a fit or yells about something, first get him to calm down.  Then, ask him to tell you with his words what the problem is.  State that you understand his problem, however, also tell him that it is not okay to scream, etc.  Then, tell him what the appropriate response should be and have him do it.  

For example: 
"It's okay to be disappointed when you do not get your way, however, we do not throw a fit when Mommy says it's time to pick up.  Instead, you need to say, 'Yes, Ma'am.'  and calmly pick up your toys.  Can you say that?"  
- or -
"I see that you want more goldfish.  However, you will not get your way by screaming.  Say, 'Mommy, may I have more goldfish please?'"

It seems very 'psychology class' to me, however, it's the only thing that helps (plus, it's much better than me constantly getting on to him).  The key is for me to stay calm and getting him to calm down so that he can express his feelings/desires/etc. in words.  Sometimes, I may still have to say 'no' when he asks me politely.  When that happens, I need to help him deal with the emotions that follow.  After all, the Bible says to "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." -Proverbs 22:6.  


In the picture above, my little guy decided he wanted to play board games while I was in the shower :o)  I asked him to pick one game to keep out and play and had him help me clean up the rest.

#5 - Structured activities
Sometimes irritability can stem from boredom.  Kids get bored and when they do, whining and irritability are sure to follow.  How do we fight this?  Not by scheduling every second of the day or by cramming in loads of activity.  Sometimes this is achieved by simply suggesting that the child play with playdough or helping the child set up his train set.  I try to always have a couple of activities in the back of my mind for when the kids start to look bored or for when they're engaging in sibling rivalry.  Lacing beads are always a favorite.

#6 - Routine
Kids thrive in having a regular routine and you as a parent do not structure a routine, they will do it for you - and most likely, you will not be thrilled with the results.   

Just think of the mom who let's her kid eat whenever he wants and go to sleep whenever he wants.  She's exhausted from bowing down to the constant demands of her child and from staying up late each night because "Johnny simply will not go to bed."  I'd like to remind that mom of who the parent is.  It's her, not the child.  The adult in the relationship is the one who is qualified to make the best decisions for the child.  If the adult knows that her child needs sleep, then she should put the child to bed with no if's, and's or but's.  If the adult knows that too many pieces of candy will hype the child up with too much sugar and not provide the nutrition that he needs, then she needs to have the fortitude to say 'no' and offer a healthy (but tasty) alternative.  Sometimes doing what is best for the child isn't always the easiest.

I'm not a stickler for keeping a tight schedule.  I simply cannot work that way.  On the other hand, I cannot stand not having any type of structure or schedule at all.  I like to call my style "structured flexibility" because I like to have a bit of wiggle room to be spontaneous.  The kids and I do have a daily routine, or rhythm, so to speak.  This helps them know what to expect each day.  Rest time is not a shock because it's something that is a part of their norm.  They know when we eat our meals and they know when it's time to ask for a snack.  My daughter LOVES to plan and must know our schedule each day.  Every night she asks what we are doing tomorrow.  She can't stand for me to tell her "I don't know".  I think she actually feels a sense of control when she knows to what to expect next. 

My son responds well to this, too.  I can usually anticipate when he'll be upset about certain situations before they arrive (such as bedtime or having to leave the park to go home).  However, if I tell him ahead of time what is going to happen, it seems to lesson the blow.  I'll give him a 5 minute warning before leaving the park or tell him early in the day that we'll have to go to the grocery store later.  He's much more willing to accept those things  when he's been given notification ahead of time.

So, is this stuff working?
We're on week 2 of Operation Buddy and so far, so good.  I'd be a liar if I told you that my son has been absolutely perfect, but I can truthfully say that I am seeing some positive results.  There may be light at the end of this 3 year old tunnel after all!  With prayer, patience, perseverance, and love, we're definitely taking steps in a positive direction.  Parenthood is definitely an adventure, but it's one worth taking :o)

I leave you with these words of encouragement:

"As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the LORD finally brought about. The LORD is full of compassion and mercy." -James 5:11

"Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." -James 1:4

"And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." 
-Romans 5:2-5

God is so good!

1 comment:

Gabrielle said...

Yes, God IS good! He has given you a precious family and the wisdom to care for them. I love this post, Leslie. I love your honesty with your struggles and I love the way you've approached his behavior in a logical, methodical way. You've done such a great job with your kids, and I know you'll work through these problems with Christian. He's such a great kid and he's blessed with a wonderful mommy.