Childhood anxiety is increasingly an issue that many parents have difficulty treating naturally and successfully. Anxiety in children may be caused by numerous issues including food choices and nutritional status. Children do not always need pharmaceutical meds to combat anxiety. There are many natural remedies, dietary recommendations, and behavior modification strategies to moderate anxiety prior to employing pharmaceutical interventions.
Anxiety in children can commonly appear as unwarranted worry, fear, and tension. However, it can also present as bed wetting, mood swings, poor sleep habits, repetitive worrisome thoughts and questions, behavioral disruption including anger and hitting, and poor appetite or refusal to eat. Of course, many of the signs mentioned can also be part of normal emotional development. It is important to evaluate each child independently and correlate the reported symptoms within the context of their age appropriate developmental milestones. However, if you suspect a child’s behavioral issues are prolonged or not in accordance with typical emotional development stages, the child could be dealing with an anxiety issue.
Children are very susceptible to emotional and behavioral changes with mild food sensitivities and nutritional deficiencies. When there are no other obvious emotional triggers for anxiety, assessing food allergies or food sensitivities with appropriate dietary changes can make a marked change in behavior. Many children do not have clinical nutritional deficiencies that cause obvious physical changes; however, even low-normal nutritional values can cause behavioral issues. For example, lab values on the low end of ‘normal’ for vitamin B12, B6, and D can alter stress tolerance, hormone balance, and anxiety.
Dietary structure and balance can play a role in emotional expression. Children are behaviorally triggered by imbalance in blood sugar levels caused by skipping snacks, excess sugar, lack of protein, or excess carbs without a protein or fat balance. Limiting excess sugar intake and fruit and fruit juices, as well as meals filled with just carbs, can reduce behavioral challenges. Balancing meals with adequate protein (as minimal as 2 oz of nuts, beans, meat, or fish) can moderate blood sugar levels which helps control mood and emotions. Striving for more balanced meals, increasing protein, decreasing excess sugar sources, and maintaining a regular schedule is essential for a child who struggles with anxiety.
Children with anxiety need constant structure and communication. Anxiety can be mitigated with routine so the child is aware of what to expect on a given day and constant communication about what to expect. If a parent has a child with anticipatory anxiety or fears, simply telling the child what is about to happen, how long they will be at any given place, and a slight warning prior to leaving will reduce responses of crying, resistance, fear, and anger.
Childhood anxiety is very challenging for all family members, necessitating lifestyle adjustments for a significant amount of time to see optimal results. In lieu of lifestyle, diet, and supplement changes that may not have the desired effect, there are also herbal remedies to consider prior to pharmaceutical meds.
Dr. Shannon Sinsheimer is state licensed naturopathic doctor with a focus on fertility, family wellness, and pre-conception health. She can be reached at Optimal Health Center (760) 568.2598.