A friend shared with me recently that she is struggling with the “terrible twos” -specifically, desperate and persistent shrieking in her preschooler. She assumed it was “natural” and “a necessary developmental process”. I adore my friend -I think she is pretty much the kindest, gentlest, most loving being I have ever met (no exaggeration). But on this point, we disagree. When she said she really respects my parenting, and asked what I would do in this situation, I thought about it, then shared a version of the following.
Before looking at the route of behavourial intervention, there are three things I, personally, would do for any behavioural issue (including those I notice in my own, adult self!). They are:
1. A healing program such as the one presented in GAPS Guide 2nd Edition. Why? Because this alone can resolve a good 80% of “behavioural issues”, including shrieking, tantrums, melt-downs, belligerence, opposition, inattention, distraction, fidgeting, spinning, and not responding. Why would we ask a child -and his parent- to put incredible amounts of energy -minute by minute- into shifting behaviours that can be resolved just by what we eat? We need to eat every day anyway! If we simply choose different foods, we’re very quickly ahead of the game.
How many of a child’s behavioural issues will resolve through food alone will vary. Some kids will see most or all issues disappear upon a change in diet. Others will see amazing improvement, but be left with a few. My own son resumed wild shrieking fits -his body flailing, terror in his eyes- every time I tried to reintroduce fruit early in his healing and also continued experiencing nightly bedwetting. Where a food is obviously problematic, part of healing means that we remove it for a while. But in cases that a nutritional program has been implemented and there are residual issues not clearly linked to food, the ideas presented below can help tremendously.
2. Sleep. When my son was two years old, and we had not yet learned about the impact of diet, he was still waking every 2-4 hours throughout each night, wailing. I tried soothing him, comforting him, holding him, walking him, rocking him, giving him space, stroking him, singing, removing layers, adding layers, you name it. The one thing I was not willing to do was to have him “cry it out”. In his pre-GAPS years, this little guy was going through more than enough as it was; he didn’t need to be left struggling in the night! Finally, I read a book called The No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. I only implemented its beginning stages, and already that was a great help! One of the most helpful things I learned in this book -which I did not initially believe could be true- was that the earlier we put a child the bed, the better and longer she will sleep! Without really thinking about it, I had been keeping my son up with me for a couple of reasons:
i. Once he was in bed, I was captive myself. So, I kept him up with me so I could get more done in a day.
ii. I figured keeping him up would help him fall asleep faster and also sleep longer in the morning (er, wrong and wrong).
When I trusted the author’s advice long enough to give it a shot, I found she was right: my son went to sleep earlier and slept until the same time he always had -this meant he was netting more sleep overall. This education held for me: even when he was seven years old and quite healthy, I found he did remarkably better when he went to bed early. Depending on the season, his level of activity or other stimulation that day, and his general level of fatigue, this was even 630pm for a long stretch! This sleep helped him feel calm and centered.
3. Once several months of diet and sleep have been implemented, if some issues remain, I would then incorporate an adjunct therapy such as EMDR. In one session, this resolved my son’s year-long terror of zombies. After the second session, he completely stopped wetting the bed (six months now and counting).
I am a firm believer in boundaries for kids, in having expectations and relaying those, and in requiring politeness and cooperation. But I would not ask these of a child before fully supporting him with dense nutrition, thorough healing, sufficient daily rest, and whatever other fast therapy is a good fit for him. Requiring cooperation, calm, and articulation while his biology is making it extremely difficult for him to honour these requests is deeply frustrating for the child.
Only after a child is supported through these key biological and neurological supports would I then implement a more involved behavioural therapy. And with these three supports in place, a child will be able to integrate that fourth therapy that much more easily.
Am I attached to this particular order of doing things? No. I tend to favour it, but I know my readers to be entirely intelligent -as well as intuitive- people. You will decide which approaches, and in what order, are most suited to your family. I do, though, strongly encourage the aspect of a nutrient-dense diet, for its impact on behaviour as well as teeth, growth, happiness, “self-esteem”, and a host of other aspects of well-being. Its impact simply cannot be overstated!
Check out the first feedback on the 2nd Edition of GAPS Guide, here!