Do you ever bring your child shopping with you? Do you feel angry and embarassed during or after your trip? I have to admit that while I do all of my shopping at Trader Joes, Natural Grocers, and other local markets, I have been there and I do go into other stores too, mostly for client needs. Do you ever go into a health food store and notice a big difference in kids’ behavior? I certainly do. Whenever I shop , I notice that I almost never see kids screaming or throwing tantrums, except for the babies that are just unhappy and unable to tell mom or dad why. Whenever I walk into Safeway, Winco, or any other general grocery store, I see it all the time: kids screaming and acting out and making parents feel angry and embarrassed at their child’s behavior. In some cases, I see parents threaten their kids or even worse (and yes I say worse, because this one affects them more long-term), give in to their demands. I see parents agreeing to the child’s demands, or even bribing them with something they want in order to get them to stop screaming. Does this sound like you?
I know how it is. I have been there. Up until about six years ago, I too shopped at these stores and bought regular store brand foods and household products, not just because it was cheaper than the stuff I buy today, but because they were brands I recognized, brands my kids remembered from their favorite commercials during their morning cartoons or kids programs. And I often found myself bribing my kids with a reward for stopping their bad behavior in the store. My kids would even grab my leg and make me drag them through the aisles of the store because I wouldn’t buy that toy they saw in passing or that food with their favorite cartoon character on it they saw on sale in big bold letters on the end of an aisle. It is definitely stressful and embarrassing and while I feel that “rewarding” them for bad behavior was beneficial at the time, I realized later that they knew how to “win the game” every time. They were toddlers when it started, but they both knew which buttons to push in order to get what they wanted and it went on for over a year. When my son was two, he was smart enough to know what worked and what didn’t and sometimes they would team up together (daughter 6 at the time) in order to make sure they both won the game.
I thought it was normal, just a part of parenting. That every mom has a “terrible two-year-old” and that it was just a part of growing up. But those “terrible twos” turn into “terrorizing threes” and “dramatic fours” and so forth. I used to think it was a part of life, a part of raising kids; that kids reacted this way naturally. Boy was I wrong about it all. It’s not normal and it can be prevented. You just have to know how to do it right. Seeing a child psychologist is definitely beneficial for both parent and child, but the one thing that changed all that for me and my kids was……..THE FOOD!!
At six years old, our daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and we researched the hell out of it, as my husband did not want to put his child through what he went through on medication as a child with ADHD himself. But her new therapist was the one who got us started. She too had a child who was treated for ADHD, both with medication, and later with nutrition, and she swore by the diet change. The book she gave me taught me so much about ADHD causes, prevention, and treatment. And in it, there was a list of twelve foods (I’ll get into this another time) to eliminate for two weeks and slowly reintroduce and monitor how they affected her. Guess what! It worked. When we changed how she ate, we noticed her symptoms slowly going away, and within the first six months, we were able to eliminate the H (Hyperactivity) from her diagnosis and within two more years, another test revealed her symptoms were gone.
With our daughter, it was easy to make the transition, because she already loved fruits and veggies but she while she missed some of her favorite treats, like chocolate, soda, and Kraft Mac-N-Cheese, she wanted to help her brain feel better, so she was on board. However, we did not want the same for our son, who had just turned three at the time his sister was diagnosed. So, we took the same things from him too. Now, being three, he didn’t understand why his favorite foods were being taken away. He felt like he was being punished all the time. He refused to eat what was given to him and would scream and throw fits at home just like in the stores. He would even go as far as to climb counters to look into cabinets normally out of his reach and scour the house in places he thought we might have stashed his “goodies,” as this is what he was used to. When I had to remind him that they were garbage foods and were no longer in the house, he would scream like he was being tortured, stomp around the house, throw things, and sometimes hit me because he was angry. We even bought healthier versions of some of his faves, but they didn’t taste the same so he was not happy. His sister even tried to tell him that mommy and daddy were trying to stop his brain from feeling sick like hers, and he still didn’t care. He wanted his M&Ms, Cheetos, hot dogs, and Kool-Aid and he was going to do whatever he needed to in order to get it…….or so he thought.
For the next six months, the stress level was high in the house. These changes we were making meant more spending on better food, as well as less toxic household and bath products. This meant we were having to make sacrifices, mostly in doing things as a family that were fun or required traveling. Not to mention, we were dealing with a child who was so used to getting what he wanted by knowing what buttons to push and realizing it wasn’t working anymore, but still fighting me on eating his meals. My husband and I agreed that I would only go to the store when he was home to watch the boy. We had even spoken to his pediatrician about our commitment and she applauded me for not giving in or giving up. She had told me that so many parents try to make changes, but fail to do so because it’s either too expensive or they just can’t handle the stress. She said, “As long as he eats something healthy every day, he will be fine. He is three, so a lot of three year olds are too busy playing to eat anyway.” He lost a pound or two here and there over that time frame, but not enough to be alarmed about. But while it was hard on me, my son, my husband, and even our daughter, it was worth it.
After those six months, our son finally started to eat more of what was given to him. He was eating healthier and not long after, he actually started liking it. By the time he was four, I was able to take him into the stores without him screaming and throwing tantrums every time he wanted something. Of course, this didn’t stop him from asking, but he stopped getting angry and instead agreed to earn his reward by being helpful during shopping trips (i.e. picking the food for me when it was in his reach), crossing off the items on the list (we used pictures to symbolize), and even by being polite to others when they were in the way. By age six, he didn’t even feel a reward was necessary when he is on good behavior at the store, because today both my kids are on their best behavior at least 75 percent of their days. Now he earns rewards for chores, academics, and sports. But while stress in food is no longer an issue for the kids, now it’s a whole other issue……..our daughter is becoming a teenager and our son is not liking this change. To be honest, neither are we. But this is a whole other conversation and issue to look forward to for the next few years.
Now that we shop at healthier food stores, the one thing I don’t see in these stores is children behaving badly, or even parents behaving badly. Occasionally, I will see an episode occur, but for the most part, everyone can shop in peace and parents are able to feel good when they leave the store with a smile on their face. Why do you suppose that is? Could it be because the food is healthier? Could it be because when people eat better, they are better people? It sure worked for me and my kids. Could it work for yours?