A search online for “guide to parenting” might pull up thousands of articles and downloadable books on the DO’s and Don’ts of raising a child the “proper way”. However, it’s fairly reasonable to agree that there is no standard set of rules and really nothing like a perfect parent. Most parents would continue the “figuring it out” process until their children are grown and have moved out of the house. You keep learning every step of the way.

Sadly, this usually comes with an insane amount of guilt when parents become convinced they are doing something wrong. When kids begin to show signs of restlessness and uncontrollable behavior from a young age, most parents would assume they are at fault for being too lenient or spending too little time with the children. While these factors considerably affect a child’s general attitude, when the problem runs deeper than regular tantrums, it’s rather unfair for parents to blame themselves.

The most common behavioral disorders in children include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), depression, etc. While these conditions mostly present on spectrums, they are commonly characterized by excessive or total lack of energy, angry defiant behaviors or physical reclusiveness, obsessive thinking, relentless speech, and withdrawal from regular activities. The root cause of most behavioral disorders in children is largely unknown, but they are generally attributed to genetics and family history, congenital anomalies, and traumatic life events.

The role of diet in reducing episode triggers

Excluding cases of abuse and neglect, the average parent trying to do right by their kids is NOT responsible for their behavioral problems. However, they may be able to control common episode triggers and reduce aggravation. Alongside medication, therapy, and counseling, your child’s diet plays a massive role in regulating their behavior, especially if they’ve been formally diagnosed with a behavioral problem by a licensed medical doctor.

Several past and recent studies have explored the correlation between certain types of foods and behavioral disorders in children. While they may not directly cause these issues, lots of natural and synthetic nutrients ingested by children can worsen their symptoms.

For instance, dairy has a strong reputation as one of the most triggering foods for children with hyperactivity-related disorders such as ADHD. Many children tend to become more aggressive shortly after consuming milk, yogurt cheese, and other foods made with these products. Dairy is also a major trigger for digestive issues, especially in children with lactose intolerance, often resulting in bloating, exhaustion, and general irritability.

According to Dana Kay, a Board-Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Practitioner, everything that ends up on a child’s plate at home or the lunch tray at school could either make or break their mental wellbeing.

“A few years back, I read an interesting article that was published right after a terrible school shooting,” Kay begins. “This article suggested a possible link between the foods we eat and the dramatic increase in violence in children and young adults. Now, I’m not suggesting that if you feed your child French fries, pizza, or soda that he or she will turn into a violent, angry young person. However, I AM suggesting that the toxic foods we eat are contributing to some of the behaviors we see in our kids.”

Kay is the founder and CEO of Our Road to Thrive, an online community providing helpful resources to families of children with ADHD. The platform also facilitates ‘ADHD Thrive Method for Kids’, a 12-week program intended to provide families all the tools and knowledge necessary to make dietary changes and fight ADHD symptoms through an entirely natural approach.

Formerly an accountant, Kay switched careers following her first son’s ADHD diagnosis. At the age of 4, the little boy was unusually energetic and hyperactive. The diagnosing doctor prescribed medications, and while they helped for a bit, the results were usually short-lived. Increasing the doses didn’t help matters, either. She decided to explore other options and find a more natural, less medicine-filled alternative.

Photo credit: Dana Kay, with permission.

“As I delved deeper into it, I realized that there were other options – they just weren’t being presented to me,” Kay said. “I started researching and educating myself. I got my holistic health degree and obtained multiple specific certifications to help me specifically in this area. I read and studied everything that I could get my hands on. I worked around the clock to feed myself with as much information as I could to see what other options are out there.”

When Kay cut out gluten, dairy, and soy products from her son’s diet, the changes within two weeks were remarkable. He was more stable and less hyperactive. Further stool sample examinations revealed that the boy had an overgrowth of candida, parasites, and a leaky gut. Essentially, his digestive system was detoxifying poorly, his gut wasn’t properly synthesizing mood-regulating hormones, and it all contributed to aggravating his ADHD.

While she agrees that medications play a significant role, the approach to controlling these disorders is purely holistic and multi-faceted. Armed with the knowledge of her son’s actual triggers, she continued regulating his diet, lifestyle, and supplements, and within four months, his symptoms had drastically reduced.

“I was able to take my son off of medication completely. Fast forward to today, and he hasn’t been on medication for years. He’s doing great at school, and his teachers don’t even consider him to be hyperactive or have behavioral issues. He’s 11, and he’s thriving,” says Kay.

Carefully planned diets – an assurance of long-lasting wellness

While it’s not exactly easy to cut out junk food entirely from a child’s diet, several food additives and ingredients have been directly linked to triggering digestive issues and behavioral anomalies in kids. For instance, consider the artificial food colorings – Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, and Red 40, substances found in thousands of products consumed by kids and even adults. These food dyes are poorly regulated – if at all- in the US, but in countries under the EU, they are always labeled “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

According to Health Line, other notorious food additives include Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), found in salty snacks and canned foods, sodium nitrite used as preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, sodium benzoate found in carbonated drinks, and yeast extract in cheese and soy sauce. While these compounds are relatively safe when consumed in trace amounts or moderation, they may cause major health complications for people with sensitivities and others that indulge in excessive intake.

It’s strongly tempting for busy parents to simply feed their kids cereal at breakfast, fries and junk at lunch, pizza and milk at dinner, essentially laying the foundation for poor health too early. Planning a diet is tough and sticking to it is even harder, but this is why parents need support, encouragement, and a sense of community to cope.

Kay runs the ‘ADHD Parent Nutrition Support Group.’ On Facebook, a community of over 13,400 parents sharing resources, stories, and tips on how to provide quality care for their kids with ADHD. Through her professional program the ‘ADHD Thrive Method for Kids’, she works directly with families to sort through the nutritional and emotional aspects of the journey to reducing ADHD symptoms naturally.

Her team of experts also offers recipes, guides, links to replacement products, one-on-one coaching, group calls, and other points of assistance to ease the transition to a healthier and more peaceful life.

It was so hard for me to get to this point, and I am determined to help as many families as I can,” Kay said. “It doesn’t need to be that hard for other people.”