I have recently been figuring out that sugar makes my 3yr old son act out of control. I have a degree in early childhood education and we were always taught that it does not affect a child in that big of a way. Well let me tell you what he eats/drinks and then how he behaves a half hour to hour later.
Eggs and Toast with Milk for breakfast- Such a good boy all morning I did not have to talk to him one time at all he played wonderfully in his bedroom building with legos and blocks.
Mac and Cheese and hot dog for lunch with 1 glass of watered down half the amount of sugar kool aid- He was falling asleep eating lunch when I laid him down after lunch he got a burst of engery and was awake for another hour and a half laying in bed before he fell asleep.
Buttered Noodles, Ham, and spinach for dinner and a glass of milk/ after dinner her got to eat 2 rolls of Smarties- Once Dad got home about an hour or a little over later he was literally bouncing off the walls! Time outs were not calming him down, removing him from the situation was not working. I tried everything!
Eventually he wore himself out and got a nice calming lavendar bath and we read some books and he went right to sleep!
This Morning he decided he did not like eggs or pancakes or cereal (this happens every once in awhile) So he wanted 2 pieces of jelly toast. I tried sneaking some peanut butter under the jelly but he noticed so just jelly on toast it was with a glass of water because he also does not like milk today appreantly! With in a half hour he was extremely loud and running around the house. He was randomly growling and would not be quiet for me when I was on the phone which he normally is. He was not even interested in his cartoons on PBS which he ALWAYS watches!
So does anyone experience this? Do you think its just coincidence or do you think the sugar has an affect? Normally we do not consume alot of sugar and I try to keep everything as it was intended to be eaten all natural. I cook from mostly fresh foods. Lately I have been using candy like his smarties as a reward for behaving for me (*smacks self on hand) I am currently pregnant with our second and due any day now I am hoping to get a handle on this asap!
I'm open for any tips anyone has! He is a very highly active child to begin with I just feel that maybe the sugar is causing it to be worse!
Sounds like my son, but he is almost 7.
He's sensitive to dyes. He had a half cup of red Hawaiian punch at a school event and within minutes he was bouncing all over the place. He freaked out and cried, and I mean CRIED hysterically for about 20 mins once we got home. Moaning, I'm a loser, everyone hates me, trying to catch his breath crying. All because he didn't win a raffle prize.
That is not like him.
I can imagine that smarties are full of sugar and dyes. So it could be a combo of both.
What I did when I realized this, was cut all preservatives out of our pantry....it took a while. And red 40 and other dyes. Check your DS' toothpaste b/c it was in ours!!!
Within weeks of cutting the dyes, sugars and preservatives he was behaving more in school, there were no freak out attacks, no growling/attitude to me or his sister.
Instead of candy as a reward, what about the marble system (gets a marble for good behavior, x amount of marbles in the jar = a reward) or a chart system...which is what I do w/DS. He gets a star for good behavior and x amount of stars = a reward. they vary, and range from me bringing him lunch at school, cash ($1), a special trip for ice cream w/me (or dad) only, or a trip to the $$ store to get ONE item that he wants.
Nate dog 5/15/04
Lil' G 11/8/07
My Shamrock 3/17/10
I also wanted to add that you could research the Feingold (I think) diet.
they talk about the link between preservatives/chemicals and what not and the effect they have on ADD/ADHD kiddos. I follow it loosley. I just buy all natural items or make it myself.
Nate dog 5/15/04
Lil' G 11/8/07
My Shamrock 3/17/10
My opinion? There are so many variables besides what and when they're eating that if you really want to determine cause and effect a pretty controlled long term experiment has to be designed. My kids behave exactly as you describe on some days and are the picture of calmness on others and for a few days I might convinve myself that it is diet but then something messes up that theory. Could be diet confounded by something else, but it isn't just diet for us.
Just my own personal experience.
For a while now, I've been having stomach aches, mouth sores, feeling too tired, especially in the afternoon, and being unreasonably crabby.
I also needed to lose some weight. So, I read a book about metabolism. Which is basically a low carb/no carb diet. WIthin a week, I felt a LOT better. I didn't even know I didn't feel good until I felt better. Just from (it seems)giving up sugar, flour etc.
My point is that diet DOES have a lot to do with how we feel and act. I'm not suggesting a low carb diet. I'm just saying that what we eat effects how we feel, which affects how we act. (can't remember if that should be "affect" or "effect"..so, I used one of each.)
I'm pretty sure that even mainstream nutritionists will tell you that sugar (or any simple carbohydrate) without protein will get burned off fast and not stay with you. So, sugary foods need to be eaten in moderation, preferably after something rich in protein and complex carbs. Sugar gives a quick burst of energy, and then as that wears off, our body tries to compensate for it.
Even if the food itself doesn't affect behavior, the effect of the food will affect behavior, if that makes any sense. A hungry child who's just had a quick burst of sugar will be bouncing off the walls. Everyone in our house is cranky and hard to deal with before dinner. No major decisions or things should be undertaken until we've eaten.
On top of these basic biological tendencies, certain people are more sensitive to the effects of dyes and certain kinds of proteins. My niece is gluten-intolerant. That's fairly common in people of northern European descent, yet doesn't affect anyone else in her family -- she's the only one who gets hives when she eats gluten.
So, if your body is more sensitive to things, or if you're not eating a balanced diet, yes, you will not feel great. If you don't feel great, your behavior is going to suffer. That's true for adults. That's true for kids. (OK, now off to go have something other than tea and m&ms for lunch ).
Since the culprits in your story were kool-aid, smarties, and jelly, I'm more inclined to think that the problem stems from food dyes and maybe salicylates. I've actually never heard of study linking sugar to hyperactive behavior (though I did hear of one that said there was no link), but there's oodles of such studies about dyes.
My MIL loves to tell me how she has read that sugar doesn't really affect kids...but I think it's an easy thing to pay attention to/cut down on when you're dealing with behavior issues. DD is six now, and she has had a maturity boost and she's much easier. Today she had root beer and ice cream at dinnertime and she handled it fine. But she also had a big hamburger and quinoa salad and a green salad. When she was three, it seemed to impact her a lot more. Perhaps because she was just beginning to eat a lot of foods that had been offlimits to her as a baby. Or because the frequency of being offered treats changed when she started preschool and developed a social life. But yes--sugar was definitely looked at as a culprit when she was 3.
I think now, I focus more on making sure that she is eating plenty of protein and is operating on a full belly most of the time. If she has that, she seems to be able to handle herself just fine.
I haven't noticed my dd having a problem with sugary foods. She behaves the same with or without it. We tend to eat sugar in moderation, with very few days where there is an exception to that and I don't notice any changes in her behavior. I do notice that when she is hungry she acts out a lot more so we eat regular meals and snacks with healthy food that will stay in her for a while. I can see how you may be having a lot of crash days if you give a sugary food but nothing else until the next meal because the sugar will leave his system fast and he may be hungry sooner which can lead to crabbiness, tantrums, and misbehavior. I don't think cutting out sugar for the most part is a bad thing at all even if it turns out it wasn't what is causing your son to act out.
Here's my take. First off, a three year old is by nature an unbalanced beast who will bounce off the walls. It's a really hard age. I did notice that the behavior you described deteriorated as the day wore on and you got closer to bed time. This is totally normal because even with naps, most kids can't make it the entire day without getting pretty tired out. Tired kids misbehave. There's the temptation to look for a culprit in foods, but honestly it's what three year olds are like. Sometimes I think people get really stressed out about less than perfect behavior that's actually totally developmentally normal. Plus there are studies that have debunked the urban myth of sugar and hyperactivity.
I would suggest taking a serious look at your son's sleep and see if there's anything you can do to improve it. If you can't, because I've been struggling with my son's exhaustion for at least 8 months or more now and I know that there are times when we are simply powerless, buckle yourself in and hang on for the ride. I don't think there's any harm in offering nutritious foods and reducing sugar, but I also suffered through my son eating nothing but jelly toast for several months and know there's not always a lot we can do when it comes to eating. I also agree with making sure your son is getting regular offerings of food to stave off hunger.
From my own personal experience, we don't limit sugar in our household and I haven't observed any obvious link between bad days and sugar intake. I have noticed that when DS is tired he'll crave sweets more, but on those days he's well-rested he can eat sugar with no obvious effect. I have noticed that there is a STRONG link to bad days and his sleep. If you're interested, I've gotten some good perspective on our issues from Kurcinka's Sleepless in America. I've now decided that the biggest thing I can control in my situation is ME, so I'm trying to make sure I get sleep so I can deal with my son not sleeping enough. You could look at reducing your stress around his behavior so it affects you less.
Best of luck. I remember three hitting me like a mac truck and it's been a wild ride ever since. Still wouldn't trade it for anything but sometimes I dream of maybe a kid-free vacation.
Queer Parenting since 2007
DS and DDare both affected by dyes. We only let them have them when we are fully ready to handle the zips they get afterwards.
The truth is most high sugar things come with brightly colored dyes so it is hard to tell if it is the dyes or the sugar...I can tell you for us it is definitely the dyes.
Sugar isn't really a big deal, but it does give him tummy aches.
He has to have protein for breakfast. It is now a non-negotiable for us. He can have any number of protein packed choices, but toast and jam is not one of them. If he has toast and jam he is a total PITA all day and all night. He makes poorer food choices throughout the day, and he is whiny and obnoxious and throroughly unlikable.
The first week he questioned it and made faces and then we found other ways to make it work...smoothies, protein shake and fruit ice pops (who doesn't want a popsicle for breakfast, eh?) yogurt and nutty homemade granola, Cheese and ham kebabs, boiled egg people (I basically take a boiled egg and add features using toothpicks and fruit and ham bits. Variety and sneakiness were very important.
Take this morning for example...he found his easter basket and the ggs hiding around the house and helped himself to a handful of jellybeans and mini eggs, before we caught him with cheesy eggs and forget it...by 12 noon he was a total basket case, bouncing off the walls and making us nuts! My nostalgia and sense of holiday magic got the better of my common sense! Next year the Easter Bunny is bringing boiled eggs and string cheese.
ETA: if you increase the protien in the AM (especially first thing in the AM) and even consider cutting gluten out of breakfast altogether, you might find you do not even need to bribe him to behave. Yes Three is a crazy age, and bringing back the nap or bringing forward bedtime might not be a bad idea. I found as an added benefit of DS eating more protein for Breakfast was that he didn't fight bed time at all and in fact went happily to bed a full two hours earlier! I think we are conditioned by society and food ads to carbo-load at breakfast and in fact this is not the best way to fuel the body for the long day ahead.
I have personally seen diet have a profound affect on people's behavior, both children and adults. I am surprised at how quickly some posters have dismissed it.
I would challenge anyone to remove artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, and preservatives from his/her diet and tell me they don't notice a difference in how they feel or act. I know these things affect some more than others, but I firmly believe that we would all be healthier without them and that they really have no place in the FOOD system as they are not food.
Okay, soap box aside, I have recently determined that my dd is sensitive to coloring -- she goes bonkers. We really never eat anything with coloring in it, but occasionally someone gives her something, like Skittles at daycare : ( It is obvious to me when she's eaten it even if I didn't know about it.
As a pp mentioned, dd will get a tummy ache if she eats too much sweets, like homemade cake and ice cream, free of junk -- so I'm pretty sure that's sugar related. She gets pretty wired from chocolate, too.
I would definitely skip the Kool Aid and Smarties, why not water or juice and dried fruit?
I would also take a look at the hot dogs and ham. There are often preservatives (and colors) in both of these that can be triggers for some people.
You can buy all fruit jam instead of jelly (and you should make sure your jelly doesn't have food coloring in it). And as a pp mentioned, maybe there is something with protein you can get in that breakfast (cheese, yogurt, nuts, seeds, meat?).
I wouldn't dismiss the sleep thing either. I agree that lack of sleep has a profound affect on all of us, and especially children's behavior. I would say that while young children are crazy and sometimes wild, and have trouble calming down, you know your child, and if you think you see a trigger it is worth it to investigate.
My grandma always tells me that when she was raising her kids and foster kids, the first thing she'd always do when there was an issue with misbehavior/hyperactivity was cut out dyes, mainly red 40. It was common knowledge among her friends even back in the 60s and 70s that food coloring can really affect some if not most people.
I DO think sugar affects people, especially as a PP said, if it is eaten on its own without protein. However, I think the artificial dyes and preservatives and so forth are a much bigger concern and more likely to cause problems in children. I'd try cutting out the candy altogether and get an all natural juice and jelly as replacements. You could also try your hand at making homemade jelly too. I don't know much about jelly/jam/preserves making having never done it but surely there is a way to do it with honey rather than white sugar? If you really like using candy as a reward, there are natural candy options with carrot juice and the like used as food coloring (but they don't taste like carrot haha.) I've given my daughter suckers made like that and she's eaten them before bed with no issues although they DO still have sugar. assuming the issue is the dyes rather than the sugar, it would definitely work as a replacement for smartees which are of course filled with unnatural things.
I made the mistake of not monitoring ds's sugar intake today, and he was a basketcase all afternoon - NOTHING like his usual self. And he's going to be 9 this summer. There is definitely a correlation for us between refined/commercially prepared "treats" than homemade ones - say homemade cookies vs oreos or today, he ate too much of a chocolate rabbit of course - nothing with dyes in it so I was confident it was the sugar. I've only really noticed this sugar-related issue this year - I think as he's getting older I've been a bit more slack on our 'rules' but that's clearly not working.
I hadn't ever read that sugar didn't necessarily affect a child - but I would've laughed out loud if I had. If affects how *I* feel, and it surpresses our immune systems significantly regardless of any hyperactive or overly emotional effects, so just knowing that was enough to convince me to all but remove refined sugars from out diets.
Ds was just such a mess this afternoon I felt bad for him! He must've been feeling so out of control to melt down that badly, repeatedly. Be awhile before we eat anything else like that again.
It's such a relief to finally trust yourself.
I've noticed this in both my ds and myself! If I don't have protein with breakfast I am tired and irritable all day. Even eating it mid-morning or for lunch won't help. It's something about starting off the day with even blood sugar. We both also have problems with gluten. My ds can have a little here and there but if he has too much he is angry, aggressive and very emotional. Also, I'm not sure if it's the combo of a million different dyes plus sugar but Skittles make both my kids NUTS. For whatever reason, M&Ms don't have the same effect. Humans just aren't meant to eat refined sugar/grains/artificial crap.
I agree with this. Based on my *own* experiences with kids (not just my own, but many kids in the family and through being a LLL leader), I would guess that it's the processed Frankenfood you are feeding him, not the sugar. Dyes, preservatives, additives, artificial flavors, etc. are not just harmful health-wise, but also affects the nervous system. I truly believe they are contributing to the rise of childhood health problems from autism to hypertension and diabetes.
My dd is on a modified Feingold, as well. For her, frankenfoods cause some serious skin issues, but also some behavioral/attention changes. She would never be considered ADHD no matter her diet, but I DO see a change. She once had the Kraft Mac and Cheese at a friend's house and when she got home, she was so agitated that she couldn't sleep and the next day her eczema was horrible.
Stick to real, whole, (as organic as you can do) homemade-from-scratch food and I bet you'll see a difference. Good luck!
I make 50 - 100 half-pints of jam every year and do a ton of canning throughout the year. Yes, you absolutely can use honey. I would use Pomona's Universal Pectin to set it up because it works well with honey.
(I know this is an old thread, that was brought back up, but wanted to mention this and the above post.)