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Back when our little one was a toddler, I read Love and Logic for Early Childhood, and it was really helpful for training our little one in terms of behavior at home. It was practical, and it worked well for us. My daughter still dreads the gentle “uh-oh” emerging from mom’s lips.

As she neared preschool age, however, we experienced many changes as a family. A move across state lines, a new house, Daddy’s busy new job, a new preschool–all topped off with mommy expecting a new baby. It was a great upheaval filled with lots transitions, and we had to adjust to a new “normal.” Suddenly, we were faced with whining, disobedience, and a not-so-great attitude.

A HEART ISSUE.

With so many transitions in our life, I realized I was not connecting with my child in a way that she needed to feel reassured of my love and her security. Up until this time, we had spent every waking hour together, going through the same routine. It was predictable and comfortable. Oftentimes, behavior is a reflection of the state of our heart. I needed to do a better job of communicating to her, free of distractions, and connecting with her. I intentionally tried to “fill her love tank” (read The 5 Love Languages of Children if you haven’t already) by spending quality time with her.

The first thing I did was change her nighttime routine. Every night after getting cleaned up, she and I spend at least 30 minutes reading books in her bed, talking, praying, and/or snuggling. There is no phone, no iPad, no TV. It is our special time together, and it one of the best parts of our day. Even if we have a busy, chaotic day, we can slow down and connect.  This is such an easy change that has become a habit, and we are going on year two. Hopefully, we will continue some form of this routine all the way up through the teenage years!

If you are a parent who works evenings, maybe dad or grandma could do this. Maybe you have more than one child and you need to snuggle with two at a time. Maybe you are a morning person and some time together before breakfast would work better. Maybe you can only do one evening a week, or only fifteen minutes. Whatever your situation and schedule, just be intentional with that short window of time in your daily routine. Put the phone down, make eye contact, smile, give them a sense of security, and connect with their heart. For more on parenting and matters of the heart, you might also like reading Shepherding a Child’s Heart.

SUGAR.

As I researched behavior for this stage, I realized that during the course of a year’s time, we had let a lot of sugar creep into the picture. Not desserts. Or candy. Never any type of soda. We eat veggies, quinoa, oat flour, coconut oil, and spinach, for goodness sake. I was just doing what most of us do… Figuring things out as I go, doing what my parents did for me, doing what most of us do, things I thought were reasonable parenting decisions. Keep in mind that the American Heart Association recommends no more than 12 grams of sugar per day for young children. (Research also suggests that too much sugar damages our brains in a variety of ways.)

Every morning, we were feeding our daughter a bowl of frosted shredded wheat cereal for breakfast. While loaded with fiber and fortified with a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals, the amount of sugar for a small child is astronomical. One serving has 11 grams of sugar. But… that was just the first hour of the day!

For her morning snack, she would often request a package of fruit snacks… the yummy, sweet, fruit-shapes which are marketed as “100% daily Vitamin C! Made from real fruit!” Great, I thought! Vitamin C and fruit… I can feel good about giving this to my growing child! Unfortunately, the truth is that not only does one tiny package have 11 grams of sugar, it also contains artificial food colorings that are banned in other countries because these chemicals pose significant health risks (and have been linked to potential behavioral problems). You might want to research this for yourself to see what you think! (Before lunch, we were already up to 22 grams of sugar for the day!)

By the time lunch rolled around, I served up a healthy (right?) juice box to quench her thirst. I might even give her one more later in the day. It was the good one. The one with 100% Vitamin C, no added sugar, and 100% real fruit juice.Look at me. I am really nailing this fruit thing! But, wait. What? One juice box has 23 grams of sugar! And, I might give her two within a day?! Let me find my calculator… 

Did I seriously give my child more than 68 grams of sugar in a day when she was only supposed to have 12? I thought I was making informed choices! Something else to keep in mind is that one tablespoon of ketchup has 4 grams of sugar, and even the bread you buy contains sugar. Just be aware that it is hiding everywhere and it really adds up.

You probably guessed it, but the second thing we did was eliminate the excess sugar from her diet.

For breakfast, we replaced the frosted shredded wheat cereal with the plain-jane yellow box Cheerios. Also fortified with vitamins and minerals–while it does not have quite as much fiber–it has only 1 gram of sugar per serving! It is gluten-free, nut-free, GMO-free, contains no artificial coloring, and is just as easy. On the weekends, we usually have a special breakfast, but it is only once per week.

For snack, we traded the chewy fruit snacks for pretzels, cheese (good protein helps keep them full), and actual fruit. The juice boxes went out the window, and now we stick with good, old-fashioned water and occasional plain, white milk. She has never complained about drinking water… probably because we made this change so early in her life before she got addicted to sugary drinks.

Believe it or not, I have to say that we have actually had a little pushback from our relatives on this issue! We have heard comments like, “You are depriving her of her childhood! Lighten up. This is what you ate as a child!” It is HARD to resist our societal norms and the flashy marketing, let alone the family disapproval. But, we’ve come to realize that nearly everyone we know who was raised this “normal” way battles sugar addiction, and has the health problems to prove it. So, in the interest of being intentional, we don’t want our kids to be “normal.” We will have the occasional dessert or the weekly special breakfast or go to the occasional birthday party, but it is not going to become our daily way of life.

IT HAPPENED OVERNIGHT.

There you have it. For us, the change happened overnight. She is calmer and more joyful.  If we ever skip the nighttime routine or if the sugar consumption increases, it is both noticeable and unpleasant. For some of you, the behavioral problems might be more complex. You might need to see a behavior specialist or speak with your doctor. Either way, if you haven’t already, try implementing some form of these two strategies in your own family and see if you experience a positive change!

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