Dr. Rose's Corner- June 29, 2015
There is a lot of literature about the connection between good diet, gut health, and temperament, behavior, resilience, and mood.
In the March edition of Brain, Behavior, & Immunity, authors Lisa Christian and Michael Bailey find that our gut microbes impact behavior. Greater diversity of gut microbes was associated with positive mood, curiosity, sociability, and impulsivity. This was especially clear in boys compared with girls and also varied depending on stress. Whether the more outgoing kids have less stress hormone or whether the gut bacteria help mitigate the production of stress hormones was not yet clear.
So we need to keep doing all those things Dr. Magryta recommends for better gut health since it is the basis for balancing so many body and mind functions. The problem is that bad behaviors, lack of resilience, and bad mood can prevent the adoption of a healthy diet and good gut health. This brings us to the third leg of the metaphorical health stool* - stress. Some stress can motivate one to change habits and too much can be so overwhelming one can't even make a small change toward better health.
Certainly there is a readily identifiable correlation between stress and behaviors. Just skip a meal for a bunch of preschoolers and watch what happens. The acronym HALT comes to mind: Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, Tiredness. One should halt-rest, address, and reassess whenever any of these are noticed.
We could add illness, thirst, sensory overload (too many demands with too little reinforcement and support) to the list especially when thinking of children who cannot always communicate these needs. Parents will likely recognize that these can all trigger the unpleasant temper tantrum. Then, when the parent's stress increases, the child's increases exponentially.
When you find yourself in this position, it helps to detach or step back from the situation and try to look at your child's perspective. If they are in meltdown, then they need some space and time to work themselves through it. Take some time to breathe deeply and review the HALT acronym for triggers that may have precipitated things. Think through what signs they gave before the meltdown or that they were becoming overwhelmed. Make a note to watch for those signs and intervene to relieve that stress to help your child bounce back from the stress before it overwhelms. It is not easy, but the good news is you have recognized the first step - realizing the source, depth, or new perspective of the problem.
Now you can do some homework and preparation and come up with a plan. The plan will give you focus and direction which helps self-doubt and criticism take a back seat because you feel empowered. You can stay the course through the storm and the others in the family will follow. If you don't feel empowered or have enough strength to create a plan, then you know you need help. Schedule an appointment with a behavioral health team. Your child's therapists can be another resource for support to help break down the steps needed for better behavior and help reinforce those both at home and in therapy for a common goal.
Take home point: Learn to HALT and grow as a parent!
* Health stool - has four legs. 1) nutrition, 2) physical movement, 3) stress/spirit and 4) chemical exposure. To maintain good health, these four legs need to remain stable in their respective ways.