Nutrition for Childhood Trauma

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Obviously, good nutrition is important for all children. For children who have experienced trauma either prenatally (such as prenatal exposure to drugs, alcohol or stress) or in early childhood, good nutrition is a critical component in their brain function and healing.

The importance of nutrition in children who have had early childhood trauma along with practical, specific tipsChronic stress can actually impact the way a person digests and absorbs their food so in children with higher cortisol levels due to early trauma, supplements may be needed.

When a child eats regularly scheduled nutritious snacks and meals, their blood sugar levels remain constant. This allows an optimal opportunity for learning and for regulating moods.

Dehydration causes all kinds of problems including decreased cognitive function, headaches, fatigue, poor concentration, increased anxiety, and mood swings. Getting enough water and reducing or eliminating caffeinated and carbonated drinks impacts everything from sleep to emotional regulation to playtime.

Ways to improve nutrition in children with trauma:

  • set a timer to remind yourself to give your child small healthy snacks
  • have a regular schedule for mealtimes so that they know what to expect
  • give each child a water bottle and keep it filled all day
  • remind them regularly to drink their water
  • model healthy eating by eating breakfast, lunch and supper yourself and drinking enough water

If you suspect that nutrition may be playing a role in your child’s behaviour, keep a food journal for two weeks. Document everything your child eats and what time and record behavioural challenges that correlate within a two hour window. Look for patterns.

If you see patterns that seem to correlate with behaviour issues, try eliminating that food from your child’s diet or try an elimination diet. Foods that are commonly associated with changes in behaviour are gluten, dairy, sugar, colourings, and additives.

Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for children who have FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder), ADHD or trauma. Studies show they reduce symptoms of anxiety, impulsivity, inattention, and learning difficulties. Omega-3 can be introduced through fish oil capsules, seafood, flaxseed oil capsules or flaxseed, raw almonds, raw walnuts, soybeans, spinach, and chia seeds.

Adopted children and food:

Food can be interlinked with trauma in children who have experienced neglect or were born into poverty and went hungry. Providing a feeling of safety in regards to food can take years. It is important for children, especially those who may not have had consistent access to food in their past to know that their physical needs will now always be met. Telling them that there will always be food for them is not enough. Show them where the food is in the house. Choose some food that they can have unlimited access to. In our house, this is fruit and vegetables, but when our internationally adopted children first came home, we also provided them with a box of snacks such as granola bars and nuts that they could have whenever they wanted. We always kept their water bottles filled so they would know that clean water would never be something they had to go without. Having very set snack times and mealtimes also helps to establish trust in the area of food.

Some children who have experienced neglect or hunger will hoard food or will eat to the point of being sick. Generally speaking, those types of behaviours will lessen once food is consistently provided but for some children, these behaviours can be long lasting. The brain is a powerful thing and sometimes even years after hunger, children will be in fear of being hungry and be hoarding food or overeating. If this is the case for your child, you need to talk to a doctor or mental health professional, particularly one who specializes in adopted children.

Malnutrition is also a consideration in adopted children who have experienced hunger. They will need supplements and a nutrient rich diet. They will also need healthy fats to help with their brain development and function. You may wish to consult with a nutritionist.

Adoption Nutrition is a website specifically for information for adoptive parents on nutrition. It also includes lists of what internationally adopted children may be deficient in depending on their birth country.

Join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.

This is part of a series with other special needs moms. This month’s topic was food or mealtimes. You can click on the links below to read their tips and experiences.

Food Issues: Are They Behavioral, Sensory Related or Medical? | Every Star is Different

How We’re Gradually Introducing New Food Into Our Son’s Restricted Diet | My Home Truths

Nutrition for Childhood Trauma | The Chaos and The Clutter

30 Things SPD Parents Secretly Wish You Knew About Their “Picky Eater” | Lemon Lime Adventures

Mealtime Strategies for Kids with Hyperlexia and/or Autism | And Next Comes L

How to Help a Non Verbal Autistic Child at Make Meal Time Choices| Kori at Home

The 7 Food Battles Not Worth Fighting About With Your Picky Eater with Special Needs | Finding the Golden Gleam

Create Your Own Feelings Jenga Game

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Giving kids a vocabulary rich in emotion words is one of the best things you can do as a parent. This is particularly true if you are parenting kids who have experienced trauma, have anxiety or are on the autism spectrum. This Jenga Feelings Game is perfect for helping kids talk about their emotions and experiences, building their vocabulary of emotion words and improve their communication skills.

Feelings Jenga Game is perfect for therapists or parents working with kids on their emotions and expressing their experiences.I love finding ways to make this kind of teaching fun. Presenting a therapeutic activity as a game is a great way to help your child feel relaxed. Being relaxed is an important element to learning. It means your child can access all of their brain instead of being in their “lizard brain” which happens when they are feeling under stress or for any other reason are in fight, flight or freeze mode.

One of my daughters played a version of this in therapy and as soon as she told me about it, I knew we could easily make one to play at home too. We have since invented different versions of the game. Some of my kids have an easier time talking about their feelings and past experiences than others so I have found ways to adapt it accordingly. The key is to make sure they feel comfortable and relaxed. This will ensure that any learning is effective and will make it more enjoyable for everyone.

To create this Feelings Jenga Game, you will need a Jenga game. You can use a permanent marker to write feeling words on the side of the wood blocks in the game or I have created printable feeling words that can be cut out and attached to the Jenga blocks with double-sided tape or glue. In the printables, I have also left some blank so that you can add in any other feelings words that you would like to focus on.

How to play Feelings Jenga:

Once the blocks have feeling words on them, set them up as you would in a regular Jenga game. There are two variations to the set up. You can face the words in so that you can’t see them or you can face the words out so that most of them will be visible during the game. For kids who are particularly apprehensive of not being able to see the words on the inside, you can have them do the set-up so that they know what even the few hidden words are.

One way to play this game is to have to describe the word that you pull out before placing it on top. This is a nice introductory way to play and especially good for kids who don’t have a strong emotion word vocabulary.

Another way to play this game is to have the person who draws the block have to describe a time or experience in their life when they felt that particular emotion. You can expand on this by having them explain how that felt and how they coped with that positive or negative feeling.

For kids who are just starting this game or who are less comfortable talking about their feelings, it will be less difficult if the words are visible because they can pull ones that are easier for them to talk about. As they grow more comfortable with the game and with expressing their feelings, they may reach a point where they are comfortable pulling out blocks even when they can’t see what the word will be.

If you know that this particular child is too vulnerable to be able to discuss certain emotions, it may be best to not include those words in the game the first few times you play. Ease into things at their pace.

This Jenga Feelings Game is perfect for helping kids talk about their emotions and experiences.This game allows children to express their experiences and feelings in a non-threatening way. Of course, modelling is another great thing about the Feelings Jenga game because it allows you to participate and model how to talk about feelings and times in your own life when you have felt those things. The child you are playing with may be able to relate to those experiences and have a “me too” moment, which can be very powerful.

This game is great for communication skills, lowering anxiety and normalizing talking about emotions and life experiences, both challenging and successful.

Subscribe for your free printable Jenga feelings words and you’ll also be signed up for our free 5 day email series Little Hearts, Big Worries.

What I Wish You Knew About Parenting a Child With RAD

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Parenting children who have RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) has been the single most challenging thing of my life. I had read about it, attended seminars about it, talked to other parents who were walking it, but none of that could have prepared me for the reality of it. Because I was not prepared even though I had all the head knowledge, it’s hard to write about this knowing that no matter how carefully I choose my words, they will not be able to fully convey what living this journey is like. I am also carefully structuring my sentences so that they speak in generalities and not about my children in particular.

What I Wish You Knew About being a parent to a child who has RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder)I hope though that in sharing this, others who are parenting kids who have Reactive Attachment Disorder will maybe garner a bit more compassion and understanding from those around them who read this.

This is what I wish you knew about what it’s like to parent a child with RAD:

  1. Children with RAD present very differently outside the home. They are often described as “charming” and “delightful” by others when things in the home are decidedly different. This dichotomy can further isolate parents as they worry that others won’t believe them if they share what the child is like at home.
  2. Children with RAD often have poor boundaries and therefore are socially indiscriminate. What you may see as “friendly” and “cute” may actually be a case of mommy (or daddy) shopping. We would appreciate if you would direct our kids back to us if they try to hug you or sit on your lap. We realize that you are trying to help by picking them up or returning their affection, but you may be further damaging their attachment to us. When in doubt, ask us.
  3. We know in our heads that love will not be enough to fix this, but our hearts often feel differently so we try to pour enough love into our child to replace what is missing.
  4. Parents of kids with RAD carry tremendous guilt. It is a heavy burden to carry the weight of something that was done to my child by someone other than me in a time before I even met them.
  5. These parents second guess everything. I know that all parents second guess, but when you are parenting kids who have RAD, it borders on compulsive and it is draining.
  6. Parents of kids who have RAD sometimes (or often) think they are losing their minds. Kids who have RAD can be expert manipulators, Philadelphia lawyers and extreme triangulators. This can lead to questioning of one’s sanity and second guessing facts that you know to be true. It also puts great strain on marriages or relationships with other caregivers.
  7. Parents of kids who have RAD are proficient detectives in their own homes. They need to be in order to keep from going crazy (see #6 above).
  8. We are tired every minute of every day. Our child’s hypervigilance can cause us to also become hypervigilant as we attempt to avoid any possible trigger for them. Our child’s emotional needs are often greater than the capacity we have as human beings to meet them.
  9. Parents of kids with RAD don’t tell you how bad things are because they don’t trust that you would understand the reasons behind their child’s behaviour and they would rather suffer silently than have you judge them or their child. We don’t tell you the worst because we want to protect our child’s privacy. Whatever we are telling you, imagine it at least ten times worse. Words like “rage” and “aggression” may be codes for “completely out of control for hours” and “physically violent”. We may be sugar coating in an attempt to protect. I would rather have you think that I’m a bad parent than have you think that my child is a monster.
  10. We love our child who has RAD. It hurts our hearts to be constantly rejected by them, but we hold on out of hope that healing is possible. We sometimes see a glimmer of the wonderful child that we know is in there and it makes us fight all the harder to love them through this.

If you are parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, what do you wish others knew? Leave your suggestions in the comments so that others can learn from them.
Join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.

Recognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment DisorderRecognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Surviving the Holidays With a Child With Anxiety

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Christmas used to be my favourite time of year. I embraced all of it, the decorating, the crafts, the baking, the get togethers, the festivities, even the shopping. In the past five years of so, Christmas has become more stressful. Several of our kids struggle with the holidays for various reasons. Some of our kids can’t help but to sabotage big days (you can read a bit more about why that is in this article by another adoptive mom) while others find it challenging due to their sensory issues or anxiety.

Christmas is usually a time of excitement and fun for everyone, especially children, but for kids who struggle with anxiety, it can be a stressful time. Here are some suggestions on how to make holidays the best they can be.

The holidays can be a huge challenge for kids who struggle with anxiety. These tips can help.Image Copyright: bialasiewicz / 123RF Stock Photo

Talk to them about it.

Being up front with your kids about the possibility that their anxieties might be heightened during the holidays just makes good sense. One thing that can be very helpful to explain to children is how in our bodies, excitement and nervousness can feel the same. When we are excited, our stomachs can get butterflies, our heart rate can speed up, we can feel jittery and these are the same things our bodies feel when we are nervous. Teach them to take a moment when they recognize those signs and ask themselves “Am I excited or am I nervous?”. Doing this easy exercise can make a big difference. You may also want to tell them that it is normal to feel both excited and nervous at the same time.

Open a discussion with them about how they are feeling about the holidays. What worries or uncertainties do they have? What situations are most difficult for them? What parts of the holidays are they looking forward to? Is there anything that they are especially dreading?

Once you establish how they are feeling about the upcoming holiday preparations and festivities, remind them of their coping strategies. Encourage them and let them know that you believe in their abilities to handle this, but reassure them that you will be there to help them through.

Prepare them.

Children with anxiety often like being given as much notice as possible about what to expect. There are tools you can use such as charts or calendars to show them when the holiday events will occur. This should also be something you talk about with them ahead of time.

It is also helpful to explain in as much detail as you can what to expect at each event. How many people will be there? Will there be a gift exchange? (those numbered gift exchanges where people can steal gifts from others can be a nightmare for our kids with anxiety) Will it be a sit down meal or a less formal one where you make a plate and go sit down wherever? If so, where will your child sit? Will you help him get his food?

Will there be a Santa there? Decorations or lights that bother his sensory issues? Will there be games played? Will he have the option to sit out of the games or activities if they prove to be too stressful for him? How long will you stay?

It is also very helpful for some kids to know that there is a quiet place they can go if it all gets to be too much for them. Discuss with them where this might be. If it is at the home of a relative or close friends, perhaps there is a bedroom that he could go to for some quiet and to compose himself if need be. If it is at the home of someone less familiar or at a venue, perhaps the bathroom or your vehicle (with supervision depending on age) would be more appropriate.

Role play.

The more prepared a child feels for a situation, the less anxiety they will feel. We role play all types of situations here. You can role play how to greet people at the gatherings, how to ask where the bathroom is, interactions with other kids, and anything more specific to the situations they will be in.

One game we like to play before the holidays every year is one that teaches our kids how to graciously receive and thank people for gifts. I place pictures I’ve cut out of magazines in envelopes. I choose some things they would want such as toys and books and some like underwear and socks and others like kitchen gadgets and practical things they wouldn’t want at all (pink doll for a boy or nose hair trimmer for a girl just to add some humour!). We then sit on the floor in a circle and the kids “open” their gifts. As I hand them the envelope, I tell them who it is from and they then say what they would say to thank that person. I teach them that the reply has to be honest and positive and has to include a thank you. Teaching my son with Aspergers how to say something honest about it wasn’t difficult, but honest and still positive took years of practise for him!

An example would be a boy who “opens” a picture of a pink doll from Grandma. He would then say “thank you Grandma. I will be able to use this to play with my sister.” Another would be a child who “opens” the nose hair trimmers…”thank you Uncle Matt. I will share these with my dad!!!”. We’ve had a lot of fun with this role playing game over the years. On Christmas, some of the practise will fly out the window with the excitement and chaos, but some of it will stick.

Say no.

The holidays is a time where the calendar can be overwhelming even to those without anxiety. Invitations for tobogganing parties, carolling, work functions, cookie exchanges, year-end gatherings, family outings, concerts, church events, parties with friends, and more can create quite a busy month. Carefully consider the invitations and then say “no” to some of them. You may even have to say “no” to most of them.

One of our invitations this year was to an adoption agency Christmas party where there was going to be a Santa and we would have had to bring wrapped gifts for each of our kids. Santa would have been something that caused anxiety for one of my kids, comparing their gifts to the gifts of others would have been a major trigger for another, and finding time to shop for and wrap at least five extra gifts (as well as paying for them) would have caused me stress, so that was an easy “no” for me.

Consider what your kids can handle, what types of things they find stressful and use those factors to make decisions about your holiday schedule. There will of course be some events that may not be as optional, but cutting out those that are can make those that are obligations less stressful too.

Getting through the holidays with a child with anxietyImage Copyright: katarinagondova / 123RF Stock Photo

Maintain routine.

It is more important during the holidays than ever to keep the routines intact. Routines are critical for a child with anxiety to feel some sense of control and peace. There will be nights when you are out and can’t keep to the regular bedtime, but when you are home, stick to the routine. Keep bedtimes the same. Keep mealtimes the same. If there is a certain schedule you normally keep, stay with that during the holidays.

For kids who are used to going to school, not having school to go to can throw a wrench in the routine for them. You can lessen the effects of this by having them wake up at the regular time and go through the morning routine of eating breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth, making beds and then choosing an activity that is low stress for your child. Perhaps that is schoolwork or something artistic or perhaps it’s playing outside. Since we homeschool, when I see that the lack of routine over the holidays is throwing my kids off, I will sometimes choose to toss a couple of school days into the holiday week just to get them back on track. It works really well.

Give them choices.

There are of course things that are non-negotiable and expectations that you will still have of your child over the Christmas season, but give them control over a few things. Allow them to choose things that they will see as important such as whether to open gifts before breakfast or after breakfast on Christmas morning. Also give them less important decisions such as whether to wear the red shirt or black shirt to the church service or where to hang their stocking.

Observe them.

You know your child. Watch them for signs that they are becoming too anxious. Listen to the signals they are sending you and earn their trust by acting on those. If you see that they are not able to cope at all in a certain situation, position yourself close to them and remind them of some coping strategies. If you see they are continuing to escalate, it may be time to head home early or take them outside for a walk to give them a break.

Focus on Health.

Christmas chocolates, baking and candy are not part of the Healthy Eating Guide! Be sure your child is getting proper nutrition even through the holidays. Even more critical than that, be sure they are well hydrated. Drinking water helps with anxiety and improves brain function at the best of times, so it is even more important during stressful times. Sleep is another factor to really pay attention to. All of these things contribute to easing anxiety and lessening the chance of meltdowns.

Bring comfort with you.

If your child has a special blanket or stuffed animal that they take comfort in, bring it with you to holiday events. You can also bring sensory balls that they can squeeze when feeling anxious or other items that help them calm down. We have made an anti-anxiety kit for our daughter and many of the items from that can be brought with us anywhere.

What tips do you have for making the holidays less stressful for your kids?

Parenting with Special Needs Series imageI’ve really enjoyed participating in a series with other special needs moms about surviving the holidays. Be sure to read their tips and experiences as well.

Surviving the Holidays with Special Needs | Natural Beach Living

Free Christmas Visual Schedule for Kids | Every Star is Different

Navigating Trauma and PTSD Over The Holidays | STEAM Powered Family

Holiday Myths & Autism | My Home Truths

Visual Christmas Schedule for Special Needs Kids | Life Over C’s

Surviving the Holidays with a Child with Anxiety | The Chaos and The Clutter

Questions Special Needs Parents Face During the Holidays | This Outnumbered Mama

26 Holiday Survival Tips for Autism Families | And Next Comes L

The Year That I Made Santa Claus Cry | Kori at Home

Conquering the Holidays: They Don’t Need to be Perfect | 3 Dinosaurs

Why I Canceled Christmas: What You Need to Know about Surviving Holidays | Carrots Are Orange