This is the second in an ongoing run of posts about how we have handled the strict Brain Balance diet.
Last week I wrote about the importance of being converted and committed if you want to change your family’s diet. Today I’d like to write about how to talk to your kids about the change.
This is crucial. I can’t imagine expecting any kind of longevity with a healthy diet for your kids if you don’t have them on board. So how do you get them on board? I can’t speak for everyone, and I’m sure that there are lots of different ideas about this. I can only really write about my own experience. So here goes.
After Betty and I had become convinced of the importance of this change, and after the Brain Balance people sat down and laid out the ins and outs of the diet, we had a talk with our kids. We told them that we had learned some new things about the food that we were eating — specifically, that some of the food that we were eating was not good for our bodies or our brains, and that we were going to stop eating it. We stressed over and over that this was a good thing, and that we would have more energy, stronger bodies, concentrate more, poop more regularly, and generally feel better if we would cut the things from our diet that were harming our bodies and minds.
We explained that this was the new law in town, and that there would be no exceptions. Everyone in the family had to be on board. We also committed ourselves to finding healthy treats and yummy foods that we could eat. We told the kids that not everyone around us was going to be making the same choices that we were, and that each family could decide how to eat. People aren’t bad because they eat bad food, but in our family we are done with eating bad food.
For a while things went well, but then we had an incident at church. Our Sunday meetings begin with primary and Sunday school and end with sacrament meeting. When Kimball showed up for sacrament meeting he had his hand in his pocket and the undeniable look of guilt on his face. I asked him what was wrong. He said nothing. I asked him what he had in his pocket. He said nothing. I asked him if he had candy in his pocket and he hesitantly said yes. I asked him to show me. After several minutes he finally pulled his hand out. He had a death-grip on a gummy worm — which by now was melted and sticky and all over his hand and the inside of his pocket. I asked him to give it to me. He told me no. Then I asked him if he would make a trade with me. I told him that I was willing to take him home after church and make him a treat that was way better than a mostly-melted gummy worm. I proposed ice cream. He accepted. When we got home we made the best berry-chocolate-mint blender ice cream we had ever eaten (it was our first try), and everyone felt great. That afternoon I made a pact that any time anyone offered them a treat and they turned it down, I would get them a way better treat as soon as I could. They accepted, and that has been our MO ever since.
This felt like a huge victory, and looking back it really was a turning point with the kids. When we go on vacation, knowing that we will spend time with cousins who are eating their own things, we bring our own treats. Most Sundays the kids come to me and tell me that they turned down an offer of candy and could they have a treat when we get home. Usually it’s something simple like some dark chocolate chips, or some frozen berries, or some taco chips and hummus. Sometimes it’s a bit more involved like a yummy homemade blender ice cream or some gooey maple syrup and cinnamon popcorn. Generally speaking, the kids have been overwhelmingly positive about this.
The other day as we were driving in the car, one of the kids started talking about Halloween and one of the other kids told the first that we wouldn’t go trick-or-treating this year because that would be too much food that was bad for our brain. I broke in and told them that I have no problem with their trick-or-treating this year, and that when we got home I would trade them their Halloween candy for some really yummy treats. They all celebrated!
This might sound too good to be true. Like I said, I can’t speak for everyone, but our experience has been overwhelmingly positive with the kids. Recently, Kimball has twice snuck treats when we have been with company and there has been junk food around. The fact that we were all shocked by it, and the remorse that Kimball obviously felt, speak to the success we have had over the course of several months. When I spoke to him about it, he just broke down and said that he just really wanted a snack. We made a new plan to make sure that we would have good food around the house, and I again spoke to him about how important it is that we stick together on this.
That night I was at a scout meeting and they served dutch-oven cobbler. I LOVE cobbler, and to be honest, Betty and I will sometimes sneak a treat when the kids are in bed, but that night I thought of Kimball and I just didn’t have any dessert. It felt good to know that I was supporting my sweet boy. The next day I told him about it and again it felt good to share with him.
My final thought about communicating with kids comes from a book called Bringing Up Bebé about parenting methods in France. One of the most interesting parts of this fascinating book is when it talks about sleep. The author says that French parents will often speak to their babies, calmly and confindently telling them that they are part of a family and as part of the family they need to sleep through the night so everyone will feel better the next day. According to the author the babies understand and they cooperate. I know that this sounds totally new-age and hokey to a lot of people, but I truly believe that our children will follow our lead if we love them, communicate with them, and treat them with respect. Most of us already do this with things like drugs and sex. We calmly and confidently teach our kids, we set an example, and they follow our lead. We aren't constantly flipping out, wondering if our kids will rebel. We expect them to do what is right. I understand that food isn't exactly the same. It's not like our kids are being offered booze at every birthday party, but I also think its more analagous than we think. We are a team. As parents we have to be good team captains, and good team captains make decisions, live with them, set an example, and calmly expect their teams to follow.
It isn’t always perfect, but so far it’s working really well for us.
How about you? What have you done to help your kids get on board with the diet?
As always, please feel free to comment on and share this post with your friends and family. We hope our story helps other people working with children and adults with autism. Feel free, as well, to click on the thermometer and donate to help us pay for the Brain Balance program that has done so much for us. Every little bit helps!