By Dr. Marika Berni, ND
In this article, I present the most common emotional upsets you may witness your child experience at different stages of life. I also provide tips for increasing emotional well-being during infant life, though childhood and into the teen years. I hope it helps you navigate the peaks and valleys of your child’s life.
I jokingly tell people that I’d never experienced anxiety until I had my first child. I realized the incredible responsibility I had to keep this child happy and healthy…..and breathing. But when I look back I see signs of anxiety throughout my life, I just didn’t know what it was.
Like the time in the fourth grade when I told my mother I thought I was shy, and realized that I was nervous to do my first public speech. Or when, as a child, I would stay up late into the night worrying that someone was going to break into our house. Or the time I definitely had a panic attack on the street during a difficult exam period while studying at University. These moments were so few and far between and I managed to resolve them on my own, never really giving them a second thought. By the time I was an adult and had gone through my medical training, a light bulb went off. Those moments had been signs of anxiety.
As a naturopathic doctor seeing entire families, I’ve noticed a strong relationship between my patient’s emotional states, the stress in their lives, and the complaints they had. Whether it was stomach upset, migraines, insomnia, hives, eczema, weight gain or loss that brought them in to see me, emotions were manifesting physically as health problems. It amazed me that these complaints often disappeared once we had addressed and resolved the stressor in their lives.
INFANTS & Emotional Upset
While the timing can vary from child to child, separation anxiety typically rears its head at around 8 months in babies. While this is a completely normal response for the child who suddenly realizes that their parents exist apart from them, it can be stressful for both parent and baby. This same anxiety can reappear in the preschool years as well, as both child and parent navigate the nuances of school and a new social network. Remember that gentle reassurance and knowledge that it is a normal phase for your child to go through usually gets you through this stage. No matter how fussy, consider the enriching power that spending time with friends and family will have on your child’s life.
CHILDHOOD & Emotional Upset
As they enter childhood, anxiety, fear and depression can all surface in response to increasing social interactions. I’m sure many of you have witnessed your kids struggle with the pressure to perform at school or in extracurricular activities. Many children have difficulty adjusting to the constraints of a long school day and have trouble with focus and attention, or sitting still.
Signs that your child may be dealing with some emotional difficulties:
- sleep disturbances
- frequent tummy aches
- refusing to go to school
- temper tantrums
If this happens you need to determine whether their complaint is physical or emotional. Help your child verbalize his or her feelings and ask them what they are feeling and needing. It will be tough at times, but I encourage you to be patient. Helping them express what they’re feeling and acknowledging those feelings will help to teach your child that they can help themselves. This is a critical lesson as your child builds his or her self-esteem.
Even at this early age I would consider blood work testing for any signs of nutrient deficiencies especially if your child exhibits any signs of mood imbalance. Sometimes low iron, magnesium, or Vitamins D and B12 can contribute to mood swings, depression and poor attention.
Once you have ruled out any physical cause there are many things that you can do to support your child. Start by reexamining your child’s dietary habits. For instance, are they getting adequate protein levels and how much sugar and processed foods are they consuming? This can affect blood sugar levels, which can lead to emotional highs and lows, and poor attention span. Increasing sources or omega 3 fatty acids (fish) can improve mood and focus as well. (1) Natural supplements such as milk protein hydrolysates, and magnesium can be used at this age in moments of anxiety, or with sleep disturbances.
TEENAGERS & Emotional Upset
Does this section even require an explanation? We have all either experienced it ourselves or have had teenage children who have experienced the emotional highs and lows of adolescence.
You can expect surging hormones combined with:
- Social pressures
- School performance pressures
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Experimentation with drugs and alcohol
All these ingredients create a breeding ground for mood disturbances. Depression and anxiety, low self esteem, poor focus and attention can all rear their heads at this stage. It is my experience that diet and nutrition are very powerful tools at this stage. Irritability and low moods can be attributed to their rapidly growing bodies not getting all the nutrients they need. Again protein and sugar intake need to be assessed.
Supplementing with omega 3 fatty acids can have a profound affect on teenage acne, cognitive performance and depression (2). Assessing blood work for nutrient levels such as iron, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, and checking on thyroid function is a good idea. Exercise results in the release of serotonin (our happy hormone) and tryptophan (which can make us feel relaxed and calm). Studies show that these hormones can stay elevated for sometime, so not only does exercise have an immediate effect on mood, it also can have a lasting and regulatory effect on it. Communication can be difficult at this stage but focusing on listening to your teenager’s concerns (when they actually talk to you) and trying to guide them through this difficult time (if they will listen) can make a big difference.
I see life as a series of peaks and valleys. We can have moments where we feel on top of the world and others where we feel like we are at the bottom. My clinical experience has shown me how effectively these emotional shifts can best be supported at any age. Counseling, nutrient and hormone assessment and treatment, a well balanced diet, regular exercise and sleep routines, and natural supplements are great options all available through the Darou Wellness team.
Book an appointment with Dr Berni to see how she can help support your family’s emotional well-being.
Child & Family Therapy
Through a variety of techniques, Agnès Dupin, RSW, MSW, helps children and families struggling with anxiety and/or fears, behavioural issues, self-esteem, separation and more.
Contact us: 416.214.9251, firstname.lastname@example.org
1) Li, F., X. Liu, and D. Zhang, Fish consumption and risk of depression: a meta-analysis. J Epidemiol Community Health, 2016. 70(3): p. 299-304.
2)Sublette, M.E., et al., Meta-analysis of the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in clinical trials in depression. J Clin Psychiatry, 2011. 72(12): p. 1577-84.
3) Craft LL, Perna FM. The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2004;6:104–11.
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