10-year-old Michael* comes home from school and immediately starts fighting with his siblings. “He is tired, cranky and agitated,” says ZisBoomBah reader mom Stephanie*. When she realized that her grade-schooler’s behavior was repeating daily, she wanted to take action quickly. “With four kids, this seems to be a pattern now that I would like to stop.” So when Stephanie asked the ZisBoomBah team for advice, we called upon our child nutrition and health expert Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FADA for answers.
What baffles Stephanie is that Michael’s teachers say he is very well behaved in school. And so is he at home, for the most part. “After about 20 minutes of fighting, he hangs out on the couch and watches TV,” Stephanie says. “We set this limit to half an hour to de-stress from the day.” What’s more, Stephanie can’t get her son to focus on schoolwork until after dinner — “And by then I am tired,” she says (and what parent couldn’t relate?), adding that her other three children do not display this kind of behavior. At a loss for answers, Stephanie also wanted our expert to know that all her children are at the 95 percentile for height and under 30 percent for weight — “Much like my husband and me; we are tall, lean and lanky.”
Could the problem lay in Stephanie’s children’s diet? “Breakfast is typically healthy muffins, milk and fruit or cereal and milk,” she says. “Lunch usually is a peanut butter and honey sandwich on whole wheat. A snack in the afternoon is mostly snacky foods like Doritos, Clif bars, crackers, etc. Dinner is well balanced and he eats just about everything we put out. And he asks for seconds.” No obvious red flag here, right? Dr. Ayoob agrees. “I’m not sure this is a nutritional issue,” ponders the Director of the Nutrition Clinic at the Rose F. Kennedy Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, where he has maintained a clinical practice for over 25 years, specializing in obesity, child nutrition and family dynamics.
“Your son seems to eat a pretty healthy diet,” Dr. Ayoob assures Stephanie. “At the same time, by the end of the school day he’s also out of gas and may be sick of sitting still, so he takes out his need to be active in a rather negative way.” What our expert is saying seems to make a lot of sense for any active school-age boy — or girl, for that matter. “It’s very possible that what he needs is just an outlet for regular physical activity after school. He behaves well at school, but by the end of the school day he’s had it with sitting still and wants to cut loose.”
But what’s a busy parent to do when afternoons fly by, packed with various after-school commitments (which require an enormous amount of time and energy, particularly in families with multiple kids)? It’s easy to become so preoccupied with chasing start times of classes, picking kids up from a friend’s house, running errands … we forget to pause and check in on how our children are feeling. By the time we realize they are hungry, tired, sad, anxious, they often already have found another outlet for that negative energy or emotion.
Even without any negative association, unapplied energy can store up in kids until it comes out in another way. Michael’s behavior, fighting with his siblings after school, is a good example. “Indeed, he needs to burn off the kind of steam a normal 10 year old has,” Dr. Ayoob says. “This need for physical activity is almost like a nutrient requirement.” Food for thought! “Give him the chance to do so by finding some physical activities that he enjoys and that he’s motivated to try. It can be as informal as shooting hoops with his friends, or structured like after school sports or martial arts, swim classes, whatever he wants. Even just an hour should do it.”
ZisBoomBah’s Tips for Parents
And did you know? ZisBoomBah offers fun activities and games for kids to get active, for free!
In the end, our nutrition expert did offer his observations regarding Michael’s diet. “On the nutrition front, his lunch contains good food, but you may want to add some extra protein to keep hunger pangs reasonable,” he suggests. “Some kids can get a bit ‘high-spirited’ when they’re hungry, and some extra protein at lunch can really sustain them a bit longer,” Dr. Ayoob says. “Also, include some protein in his after school snack. A handful of almonds, some string cheese, Greek yogurt, or even a hard-cooked egg or a reheated chicken drumstick added to his lunch or his regular snack can do the trick.”
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