A child’s lifestyle affects his alertness, behaviour and his ability to learn. Things such as what he eats, his daily activities and his time schedule are all areas which influence the development of any child. In this respect, it’s important to learn how to achieve balance in each aspect of his daily life. This is especially true for any child, whether or not he has a neurological condition or specific health concern.
Sticking to a time schedule
To begin achieving this balance, one of the first steps to take is to determine a time schedule that works for your child. Meals, playtime, homework and bedtime should all be included and worked out from A-Z, with adjustments made according to his needs. In general however, a young child should sleep no later than 9 PM every night because a full, restful sleep is necessary in order for a kid to learn best. Also, it is important for a child to have a good breakfast full of nutritious foods each morning, with as little processed food as possible. These changes alone will benefit any child, as you will be able to see by the differences in his behaviour and alertness.
Choosing to put your child on a diet
For many children with food sensitivities though, there may be specific issues which need to be taken into consideration during mealtime. I’ve received many questions and comments about putting a child on a gluten-free, casein free diet, particularly in regards to children with autism or an autistic spectrum disorder. In general, my opinion is that whether you choose to put your child on the diet should depend specifically on your kid and how he reacts to certain foods. This will differ from child to child, so make sure to pay attention to what he eats and then adjust his diet accordingly. There are a few things which I can note however in regards to casein and gluten however. When you think about it, we are the only animals in the world who regularly consume milk throughout our lives. In every other case, animals stop nursing once they have adopted eating solid foods. It is not beneficial for any person to have dairy non-stop, so in this respect I would watch how much dairy your child consumes and adjust what he eats according to his own needs, allergies and sensitivities. In addition, I think that this same approach should be taken with food items which contain gluten. Personally, I do not think that gluten by itself is the major problem. If removing gluten from your child’s diet has positive effects, I think that that is a great sign. However, we also need to look at what else has been put into the products themselves. Today, a lot of breads, snacks and processed foods from the grocery store contain several of chemicals, some of which may produce irritability in a child. When combined, these factors may cause issues with his digestive tract, subsequently affecting his function. As a result, it is important to pay close attention to what a child consumes and how it influences his behaviour, so that the appropriate changes can be made.
Use of electronics
In order to truly benefit from these changes however, it is important to address other aspects of a child’s life such as recreation. One of the major points in particular is a child’s relationship with electronics. Now, I’m not trying to argue here; there are many technological advances that have benefitted children, particularly those with special needs. However, we have to understand that everything should have its limits, and that includes the use of technology and the importance that it should play in our everyday lives. Spending a lot of time in front of a screen, for example, is something that should not be viewed as normal, healthy behaviour for any child. When a child has time to play around, he is able to use up his excess energy as he explores his surroundings and stimulates his sensorial functions. However, when this playtime is replaced by screen time, there are some differences in their effects. While the pictures and words may change in front of him, a child’s sensations and concentration will remain the same. This may lead to frustration, upsetness or outbursts of other emotions.
Instead, give your child some time to spend outside in the fresh air, such as by playing outside or taking a walk through the park with him. For these reasons, it is important to remember that while technology has its benefits, its role should be limited to a certain extent. With so many health risks of using items like cellphones and computers becoming evident, it is important to exercise moderation in terms of its use. (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cellphones)
By creating a time schedule, making careful changes to what your child eats and paying attention to his use of electronics and recreation, the goal for these changes is to adjust a child’s lifestyle so that he can remain healthy, happy and ready to learn. However, every kid is different and has his own unique characteristics. By providing you with these guidelines, it is up to you as a parent, therapist or caregiver to determine what is best for your child and his specific needs.
By: Natan Gendleman