How To Shift Your Kids From Stressed To Strength

mood learning & behaviour

The reality is, kids do better when they feel better and they feel better when they do better.

It's a feedback loop.

This is a principle we hold at the core of our work with kids.

It means that when your child isn't doing great -- if they're getting in trouble at school all the time, feeling lethargic and tired, feeling anxious and revved up, feeling angry and frustrated... whatever it is for them -- the question for a caring adult to ask is, "what's making them feel so uncomfortable?"


Whether or not your kids are on board with changing things, here's how you start...


There are 5 things every single child needs to thrive. I call them The 5 Nourishment Needs.

They are the non-negotiables; the things the body is wired to need and expect. No exceptions. Without the Nourishment Needs our physical and mental health suffer. 

I'm about to list them and you'll find nothing surprising in this list. Though I think we can agree that in today's world, they've become harder to nail down and be consistent with.

The first thing to do to help your child is to bring the Nourishment Needs to the top of the to-do list.

Start with whichever is easiest, because in truth, they're all connected - as you work on one you will be supporting the rest. So read through them and find a starting point that works for you.

Focusing on these 5 Nourishment Needs with your kids is how you build a Culture Of Nourishment in your home. It's the first step to stronger mental and physical health and resilience. 


The 5 Nourishment Needs:


1. Real Food

Make sure your kids are eating more real food than processed food.

I'm a busy mom too and yes, we have bars and packages in our pantry. But make sure that the bulk of what's in your kitchen is real, whole, and free of nasty ingredients. 

There are nuances around getting the right foods and the right nutrients into your child to meet their growing needs, and around food refusal, budgets and all that (we'll get there). For now, we're keeping things broad. The bottom line is that nutrients from real, whole food make the body run. Without them, processes slow down and health suffers. So we need to ensure sufficient nutrients are coming in so the body has the building blocks it needs to function well. 


Try this: start by self-assessing.

  • Have the processed and packaged foods inched their way into the house? Or is your child eating mostly real, whole food?
  • Do you think your child eats too much sugar?
  • Do you know which fats you should have in the home?
  • Do you know what to look for in a food label?

TIP: Try the YUKA app to help you analyze food labels. It's a good start to getting unwanted ingredients out of your home!


2. Sleep

Sleep is essential to good health.  A lot goes on when a child is sleeping! Without sufficient sleep, they won't grow well, integrate learning, detoxify, or reset hormones.

Even 30 minutes more sleep can help kids focus, learn, and better regulate their emotions. 

Try this: Stick to a consistent bedtime and avoid screens in the hour leading up to sleep. Make sure your child has a sleep environment conducive to restorative sleep

We're going to talk more about how sleep nourishes kids on season two of The Feeding Families podcast.



3. Hydration

Make sure your child is drinking clean, pure water. Water is to the body what oil is to your car or bike... it keeps things moving. 

Try this: Aim for about 1/2 your child's body weight in oz per day at least. For example: a 50 lb child = 25oz water… roughly.

They'll need more if they're an athlete, more if they're constipated, more if you live in a very hot climate. Herbal teas can count, but juice does not. They need pure, clean water. Avoid water with chlorine, chemicals, sugar, additives, or any other junk. 


4. Connection

Connection with caring adults is key for our nervous systems to feel safe. We are wired for attachment.

This topic deserves a whole post in and of itself but suffice it to say (for now), a child's need for strong attachment is also a key aspect of the work we do to support mental and physical health.


Try this: Make sure your child is getting focused, quality time with a caring adult - preferably a parent - every single day. Even if it's just 2 minutes, 5 minutes, whatever you can manage. No phones, no mult-tasking, just pure focus on them doing something they want to do with you. Set the time frame expectation clearly and allow them to decide what you are going to do together.

There are lots of ways to foster and repair connection with your kids if it's slid off the radar. This is just one. But go All In on this and you'll see remarkable shifts in your child. 


5. Movement and Play


Movement is not only important for physical health but also important for mental wellness as well. So is laughter.

In younger kids, this may look more like free play as they learn to use their bodies. In older kids, it might take the form of working out or joining team sports.


Try this: See what your child is into. Start by getting them outside into fresh air for walks - at least a little. If they're too tired or apathetic or lethargic to engage in this loop back to the others - especially #s1, 2, and 3. Use this 5th Nourishment Need as a benchmark to gage your progress.


Easier said than done. I know! Like I said, there's probably nothing surprising in this list but life is life and kids can be tricky.  What I've given you here is a framework for thinking about this so you don't stay stuck.  

When we work with families we help them stay oriented to these needs, focused on forward momentum, and we help them have positive conversations with their kids about nourishment so the weight lifts from their shoulders.

There's a learning curve, but now you have the framework. Boom! You're one step closer to helping your kids. 


After focusing on the 5 Nourishment Needs for a while one of three things usually happens.


1.  Symptoms start to dissolve and your child feel better. You now have a framework for talking to your kids about how they can support their health moving forward and strategies to help them get back on track when they slip.

2.   You get confused and overwhelmed because focusing on all these things is too much for you to handle or your child isn't on board or compliant with the structures you set in place. You're tempted to give up but you know these are important so you feel frustrated.

3. You are doing your best but there are elements that you just can't get a handle on and your child is still struggling. Like, they just never seem well rested no matter how much sleep they get, or they're just too tired to move their body, or they just shut you out when you try to connect.


Here's what to do next...


Situation #1 isn't a problem. You're doing great and are setting your child up for a bright future! If you need support keeping all those balls in the air consider joining our membership so you can surround yourself with other amazing parents focusing on creating a Culture Of Nourishment in their homes. 

The only solution for situation #2 is to get some help. Don't give up just because it's hard. We see the most remarkable turn-arounds in kids when they are well nourished. Head over here to see how we can support you.

As for situation #3, it's time to turn to the 5 Main Stressors. We see this a lot. My experience has taught me that when basic nourishment needs are being met but a child is still struggling there's usually one (or several) of the following 5 factors throwing a wrench in your plans.


Part Two: The 5 Main Stressors:


1. Nutrient Imbalance. They lack certain crucial nutrients.

Maybe this is due to poor intake, or maybe it's due to increased genetic need or poor absorption.

There is a list and explanation of the most crucial and often lacking nutrients in my book. Or work with us to run some testing to see what's going on.


2. Food Reactions. They are having reactions to foods.

I don't mean allergy... I'm referring to sensitivity. And it's usually temporary. But it could be that food is causing inflammation and robbing them of crucial nutrients.

A Wheat Zoomer or food sensitivity test or an elimination-type diet can help shed some light. 


3. Toxins. They are not effectively managing the toxins in their environment.

We have remarkable built-in detox mechanisms but we can only handle so much. Some kids, due to their genetics or their exposure, have particular trouble with toxins. As they accumulate they cause damage to cells and this shows up as all kinds of symptoms including depression and anxiety.

Getting the toxins out of the home is a key aspect here but you can also use genetic and toxin tests to see what the body's burden is and follow a detox program to support elimination pathways.


4. Gut Problems. They have disturbances in their gut ecosystem.

Ahhhhh.... the gut-brain connection. Are you new to this remarkable highway that travels from the gut to the brain and back to the gut?

Read this post. You need to know about this. 

5. Infections. They have an underlying infection you don't know about.

Infections create inflammation and sap energy by putting pressure on the immune system. In some kids that inflammation affects the brain, and it can be a major contributor to anxiety, depression, rage, poor sleep, and more. Blood testing is the best way to assess this piece.

Just as there are 5 Nourishment Needs, there are also 5 Stressors that interfere with health and resilience. The way to help your child without relying on medication long term is to get more nourishment in and find and reduce as much of that stress as you can. 

Kids do well when they feel well and they feel well when they do well. This is the model we use to help them feel well - nourish and relieve stress.

The connection between physical health and mental health is robust and well-established. If your child is struggling, the question to ask is "what is making them feel so uncomfortable?"

At this point, if you're still reading, you probably have more questions than answers. That's ok. The point is, now you are asking the right questions. 

This article was meant to be a 30,000 foot overview so you can orient your thinking and start getting strategic. 

For support implementing all this, learn about our Membership here.



Related Posts:

The Gut-Brain Connection: 3 things every parent needs to know

Amino acids for Relieving Stress

What's up with Moody Teens? About COMT

How to have positive conversations with people who don't agree with you


About Jess Sherman, FDN-P, M.Ed, R.H.N

Jess is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition¬ģ Practitioner, Registered Holistic Nutritionist and a trauma-sensitive Family Health Educator specializing in brain health & resilience for kids.¬†She is also a teacher, with a Master's degree in education. Her¬†Calm & Clear Kids¬†introductory course,¬†her Amino Acids (with kids!) Quickstart program, and her signature¬†Roadmap to Resilient Kids,¬†¬†along with her book¬†Raising Resilience,¬†have¬†helped families¬†in at least 44 countries¬†improve the lives of their children with learning differences, anxiety, ADHD, and mood disorders and reduce¬†their reliance on medication.¬†She is the 2019 recipient of the CSNNAA award for Clinical Excellence for her work¬†with families, and she¬†continues to¬†bring an understanding of the Nourishment Needs and Biological Stress to the mainstream conversation about children‚Äôs mental health, learning, and overall resilience through her blog, courses, workshops and as a contributor to print and online magazines.¬†

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The content on this website and in the guides and courses offered here is meant to provide information so that parents can make informed decisions and discuss these issue with their health care teams. It is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or individualized care.