2018 October 1 by Dr. Randy
Another school year for kids and parents, and we recognize the patterns and flow of school life. For young children this entails social interactions with friends, getting used to schedules, and becoming engaged in learning. This is such a complicated process filled with excitement, inspiration, and frustrations. It involves recognizing the priorities of academics, hobbies, activities, and relationships. And that’s just for those who are flowing well through the program of school. For many children, school is stressful or even painful. So many factors can be deterrents to engagement, especially for those children who find it difficult (or boring) to sit still at a confining desk for extended periods of time. For students who enjoy prolonged periods of quiet and focused attention, school can be a haven. Others may feel socially awkward, shy, or out of place. They may have other pressing interests besides the typical subjects taught in school. And a large percentage of children have high kinetic energy and difficulty remaining in one place for long. They function best through exploration of their environment and hands-on interactions. Unfortunately, they are often labeled as being distracted or disruptive. And some even get a diagnosis of ADD or ADHD. Others have completely different styles of relating to the world, and they get put on an autism spectrum or diagnosed with a condition such as Asperger’s syndrome.
Every child has a distinctive and individual style of learning that needs to be honored and respected. Every child has unique gifts and talents, and these may not fit easily into the mold of the school model. It falls upon parents to recognize and cultivate these gifts. All too often we focus on perceived weaknesses and faults, giving negative feedback and corrections, forgetting that children need love, nurturing, recognition, and encouragement. Many children see themselves as failing, not rising to expectations of their own or the adults around them. They see their interests and pursuits as private havens when they should actually be celebrated. It is often hard for us as parents to strike the balance between trying to keep kids on track in the grooves of schedules and schoolwork and actually enjoying life.
Here are some suggestions.
- Have periodic conversations with children about their interests, whether those are music, video games, imaginative play, animals, or hobbies. Show your interest in their private pursuits. This points to the value of their inner life and can help to foster their passions.
- Communicate with teachers about your child’s strengths and interests so that he or she can play to these strengths.
- Avoid struggles over homework. You are not responsible for getting homework done. And keep in mind the myth of homework. Studies have shown that homework accomplishes very little. It creates conflict and tension in families and serves little positive purpose.
- Enjoy your children. Cultivate your appreciation of their amazing personalities and talents.
- Cultivate your own patience and forbearance. It may seem like your children are intent on driving you crazy, but they just want to have fun.
- Children will actually learn responsibility without your nagging. They will learn how to get assignments turned in by the time they get to high school. They will learn that they need to show up for work once they are on their own. They will be fine. Let them learn.
- Remember that life is fleeting. Teachers come and go. Struggles are inevitable and mean very little.
- Pay attention to the moment. That’s where children live. Take them as your role models.
- You may also want to review this article about recognizing your children’s strengths.
2017 April 27 by Dr. Randy
Attention problems have become an apparent epidemic. Why are so many kids diagnosed with ADD and ADHD today? Why are so many kids routinely prescribed medication with potentially harmful side effects for these issues? The subject of attention is a huge field. I will try to summarize some of the main issues from the perspective of holistic pediatrics.
Causes of ADHD
There are many contributing causes to the epidemic of ADHD:
- Not the least of these is the expectation that children need to sit still for hours at a time at early ages doing repetitive academic tasks like worksheets. Many children will attempt to avoid these tasks by not paying attention.
- Another contributing factor implicated in the ADHD epidemic is the neurological damage caused by the onslaught of vaccines and toxic vaccine ingredients on the developing brains of small babies.
- Yet another contributing cause of ADHD is the typically deficient and harmful diet of many children that includes empty calories, high fructose corn syrup, and nutrient-deficient junk food.
- Children’s increasing exposure to television and other electronic screens may also be a factor in shorter attention spans and altered information processing. “It certainly has been shown that exposure to nature and increasing exercise foster creativity and healthy brain development.”1
Understand Your Child
Creating a learning environment that encourages a child’s strengths and talents will help to place their attention style into perspective. If parents develop an understanding of their child’s attention style and their unique personality, then they are in a better position to understand how that child will flourish.
There are several ways to understand and describe children’s learning styles:
A good place to start is temperament. Several temperament characteristics have significance for attention. One of these is the level of activity of an individual child. Some children are more active than others. This typical activity level can be described with an analog scale from low activity to high activity children. High activity characteristics can result in restlessness and fidgetiness in the classroom that teachers see as disruptive behavior.
Persistence is another category that contributes to attention. The child who is persistent, stubborn, and obstinate will tend to have better focus skills and stay on task longer. By contrast, children who are not very persistent will tend to get distracted more easily.
Finally understanding a child’s behavioral style throws light on attention. The hunter/ farmer analogy is relevant here. Some children are natural hunters. They learn best by roaming around, exploring, and discovering things on their own. These kids will appear more restless and impatient. Other children are more like farmers – patient, observant, and passive. They are able to delay gratification and learn by watching. Books by Thom Hartmann and Mel Levine describe the variation of children’s attention styles and can provide parents with a healthy perspective on ADHD.
Chinese medicine has described children as one of five typical types. An excellent book that describes this typology and its application to attention problems is Fire Child, Water Child by developmental pediatrician Stephen Cowan.
Advantages of ADHD
Attention is a tricky business. Let’s consider one example. A child who is restless, distracted, and impulsive in the classroom is often seen as problematic or pathological. When you take this same child onto the basketball court or soccer field his quick reflexes, impulsive reactions, and excellent scanning abilities provide the skills he needs for flexibility and quick responsiveness that bring approbation from coaches and fans.
Some of our most successful athletes, innovators, and entrepreneurs have unconventional attention functions.
Holistic Treatment of Attention Problems
Some children do need help to focus and attend to tasks. Several natural supplements can help brain function. For example,
- an Omega 3 fat supplement will make anyone’s brain function better by creating flexible cell membranes that allow nerves to communicate more efficiently.
- Phosphatidylserine will often help children who tend to be restless.
- And DMAE helps spacey, inattentive kids with focus control.
- Many other supplements can assist specific neurotransmitter function, and homeopathic medicines can address individual attention and behavioral symptoms as well.
Seeking the care of a holistic pediatric practitioner can provide solutions in the form of an individualized treatment plan for a child struggling with attention issues. An excellent book that describes natural supplements for attention problems is Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies by Kenneth Bock. This holistic approach can also uncover the hidden connections between neurotransmitter balance, nutritional status, food sensitivities, digestive function, and attention in our children.
2013 August 14 by Dr. Randy
Time again to buy school supplies and pack off your kids to the first day of the next year of school. Here is a checklist to help set them on the right path this year.
Talk to your kids about healthy foods that they will actually eat in their lunches. This is a good opportunity to discuss processed and whole foods choices. Fruits and cut up veges that contain antioxidants and vitamins are preferable to foods that contain chemical additives and added sugar. Explain that corn syrup is not an ingredient they want to include in their lunch choices. Sandwiches with whole grain bread and nut butters or cheese, meats, and veges are a good choice, or wraps that include vegetables will provide some variety. Snacks of dried fruits and nuts or granola bars are also healthy options. Be creative and let your kids suggest possibilities. You might be surprised by some of their new preferences this year.
Schools will urge you to get the latest boosters of various vaccines including measles, whooping cough, and Gardasil (HPV). Don’t be bullied into getting any vaccines that you question. You can always obtain a waiver for any vaccines you don’t want. Research the specific vaccines and decide whether they are right for you. Trust your own judgment once you have done your research. Read the sections of vaccine choice books like the Vaccine Guide to decide where you stand on a particular vaccine.
If any issues around learning skills (reading or writing or math), achievement, or attention came up during the last school year, be prepared in advance to address these with your child’s new teacher. Take a proactive approach to inform the teacher about any concerns you may have. You may want to consider starting some nutritional supplements that optimize brain function. These could include fish oil with at least 400 mg of DHA and Phosphatydilserine ( 100 mg) for attention. Other supplements can be useful for maximizing attention functions if you have concerns. Check out my educational presentations on learning and attention at the CureChild website.
Start getting prepared for homework. Establish a homework time schedule taking into account after-school activities. Get some hourly planning sheets so your child can plan out the evening. Have your student estimate how long their assignments should take and write in specific subjects on a time planner. This will make your child responsible for homework estimation and completion.
Getting a good night sleep will help ensure alertness, efficient learning, better ability to focus, and success in school. This means at least 8 -10 hours of sleep for your school-aged child. Make some rules about a time to turn off screens and a time for lights out.
Physical exams and health forms
Get all of those forms together for the school year and make sure you have a check-up form completed by your doctor if your packet includes one. For patients in my practice I reserve time in my schedule for those last minute physicals.
Long distance medical care
I am available for Skype or Facetime visits for anyone who lives outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. Send me an email at CureGuide@gmail.com to set up a consultation. We can discuss your child’s learning issues, or immune function, or any medical problems.
2013 April 12 by Dr. Randy
A simple and very effective way to improve attention functions in children is to make sure they are getting daily exercise. Keep your kids moving and involved in physical activity programs.
Exercise increases the production of several neurotransmitters which are known to improve memory and attention, and decrease impulsivity. These include dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Exercise, especially sprinting, also increases Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein in the brain that improves the communication between nerves. For a detailed explanation about how exercise improves brain function, read Dr. John J Ratey’s book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.
Short bursts of exercise will increase these neurotransmitter levels in the hours following exercise, for example during the school day. This can result in more effective learning. But a prolonged exercise program will also raise these neurotransmitter levels over the long-term, providing a persistent benefit to attention functions.
Wigal SB, et al. Exercise: Applications to Childhood ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders 2013 17: 279.
2012 August 20 by Dr. Randy
The school year is about to begin for America’s children and drug prescribing will be back in full swing after the lull of summer vacation. Parents are being informed that their children will not be admitted to school without their required vaccinations. As parents rush to their pediatricians for completion of school forms, vaccine boosters come fast and furious. Whooping cough, measles, and hepatitis vaccines are now administered to schoolchildren in record numbers.
Parents are not informed that these vaccine boosters are not actually needed for school entry. Quite the opposite. Parents are pressured into giving vaccines even against their wishes. But in all states vaccine exemptions are readily available to parents. Nearly half have philosophical exemptions so that parents can merely submit a note stating that vaccines are contrary to their personal beliefs. In the remaining states parents can obtain a religious exemption, which can also be determined by a personal belief.
Vaccines are controversial for many reasons, not the least of which is the risk of serious adverse reactions. The association between vaccines and autism and ADHD has many parents worried about their children’s safety. But if the increasing number of required vaccines for children is causing an increase in learning disorders and attention problems parents can be assured that other drugs will be prescribed for these problems.
Prescriptions for ADHD have skyrocketed to record numbers. Children are expected to sit quietly and passively in classrooms regardless of their individual learning styles. If a child learns best through exploration and active participation, they may be seen as disruptive. Lack of conformity to the expected norms of behavior can land children in the pediatrician’s office for prescriptions to calm them down. These prescriptions for supposed ADHD behaviors attempt to manipulate brain chemistry and neurotransmitters, sometimes with disastrous results. Side effects of these medications may include insomnia, tics, sedation, and suicidal thoughts. And yet children are routinely medicated with antidepressants, amphetamine-like stimulants, and other ADHD drugs at the request of teachers and schools.
The Holistic Alternative
There are alternatives for parents to all of these drugs. If children have a resilient immune system, then they may not need vaccines to artificially stimulate antibody production. A whole foods diet and a few nutritional supplements will produce a healthy and vigorous immune system with the strength to resist and control infections. Herbal supplements like Astragalus, elderberry, and medicinal mushrooms all have the ability to activate and balance the immune system. Nutritional supplements such as whey protein, vitamin D, and probiotics also support and activate the immune system.
There are supplements also that can improve children’s attention functions and sharpen mental processes. The Omega three fats in fish oil promote healthy communication between nerves that results in efficient mental processing. Other supplements can safely develop more alertness and focus in children. Holistic pediatric specialists are well-trained in using these supplements. However, taking a different perspective on children’s behavior helps to keep a sense of balance when viewing these symptoms. For example, a child who is impulsive and easily distracted will flourish in an environment that encourages active learning. And of course these active, inquisitive, and restless children become the stars on the soccer field and basketball court. They become the innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders in their future careers. It’s a matter of perspective.
It is time that we re-evaluate the use of drugs to control symptoms in children when safer, more effective methods are available.