Improve Your Child's Gut Health in 5 Simple Steps: Step 5

We're on the final step for improving your child's gut health. If you're just joining us, here are the first four:

  1. Replace gut-irritating foods with gut-healing foods (this is your most powerful intervention)
  2. Supplement with a high-quality probiotic
  3. Ditch the antibacterial soap and make dirt your friend
  4. Avoid antibiotics when possible

While each step is simple, not all of them are easy.

I've said it before and I'll say it again (I have to remind myself of this all the time), the key to implementing change (and avoiding overwhelm) is to Start Small.

Remember our mottos for this series: Rome wasn't built in a day and Progress not perfection.

Keeping these mottos in mind, let's dive into...

Step 5: Reduce Stress

Stress affects our entire nervous system and is the number one cause of chronic illness.

Of its many effects on our health, research shows that chronic stress can change the balance of gut bacteria- this is as true for our kids as it is for adults.

Kids who struggle with neurological disorders such as sensory processing disorder, ADHD, and ASD have more sensitive nervous systems and are more susceptible to stress than their typically developing peers, making stress reduction that much more important.

Here are 5 tangible ways to reduce your child’s stress:

1. Increase Special Time

Special Time is a daily scheduled and specified amount of uninterrupted one-on-one time with your child (Click Here to get the full rundown).

Based on my professional experience as a therapist and parent coach and my personal experience as a mom, increasing special time is, without a doubt, the most effective intervention for decreasing stress in children.

Aim for 15 minutes of special time a day. You will be amazed by its effects on your child’s stress-level, mood, and ability to self-regulate.

2. Dial in Your Child’s Sleep

A well-rested child = a well-regulated child.

For kids with developmental challenges, sleep is a catch-22: They often have difficulty sleeping which heightens stress and anxiety which makes it harder for them to sleep!

Click Here for a more detailed look at sleep's impact on your child’s health as well as guidelines for how much sleep your child needs.

Here are some tips to improve your child’s sleep:

3. Establish Routines

All kids, especially kids with SPD and other developmental challenges, benefit from structure and routine.

The reason? Routines give kids a sense of stability, organization, and comfort which provides a buffer from the anxiety and stress that go along with not having much control over their lives.

Establishing and being consistent about your child’s morning, naptime, and bedtime routines will reduce his stress and anxiety.

Consistency is the key here. It’s important to follow the same steps and stick to the same nap time and bed time each day, especially when you’re trying to establish a new routine.

Having a visual schedule is especially helpful for kids with developmental challenges.

Here are the routines we follow to give you an example:

Morning-

  1. Eat breakfast
  2. Brush teeth
  3. Get dressed
  4. Free time until we leave for school (the motivation here is the quicker they do the first three steps, the more free time they'll have.)

Naptime 1pm-

  1. Set the Time Timer at 12:25pm for a 5 minute warning before heading upstairs
  2. Read a book
  3. Lights off
  4. Quick snuggle
  5. Tuck in and give a kiss

Bedtime 7pm-

1 Set the Time Timer at 5:55pm for a 5 minute bath time warning
2. Bath
3. Brush teeth
4. Pj’s
5. Read one book
6. Lights off at 7pm
7. Group snuggle while mommy or daddy tells a short story
8. Tuck in and kiss goodnight

There are two types of people in the world: Those who love routine and structure (me!) and those who don’t (my husband!).

If you fall into the second group, you might be thinking, Are you crazy? This sounds horrible! I’m not a drill sergeant and what happened to spontaneity, isn’t that the spice of life?! Or, as my husband often says, “Sheesh! Chill out a little!”

Here’s the thing. You’re right. Spontaneity is the spice of life and we certainly don’t want to raise little robots. There has to be room for flexibility - weekends and special occasions are good times to loosen the routine reins.

It’s not a one size fits all- you have to do what works for you. But, the more you can follow a basic framework for morning, nap, and bedtime, the more regulated your child will be.

4. Decrease Screen Time

This is a tough one, I know. Sometimes our only moment of peace is when our kids are watching a show or playing a game on our phones.

It’s hard to resist handing over the phone when you know it will buy you some much needed time to get stuff done. Or when you know it will keep your kids quiet for a bit so you don’t go insane. I totally get it.

Here’s the problem. Too much screen time causes children to become overstimulated and overstimulation causes, you guessed it, stress!

So, what do we do? How much screen time is too much? Are some types of screens less bad than others? Where is the balance?

There is a wonderful website, Common Sense Media, that can help you answer your screen time questions. It provides age-appropriate, research-backed guidelines for screen time and gives realistic tips for implementing and enforcing them.

The general rule of thumb is the less screen time, the better. Here are some screen time reduction tips:

  • Designate specific screen times - ie. 20 minutes in the morning, or 30 minutes after school.
  • Use a timer - when the timer goes off, screen time is over!
  • Replace screen time with a “special” activity of your child’s choice.

5. Decrease Transitions

More transitions = more stress

Between school, homework, sports, tutoring, music class, play-dates, OT, PT, speech… it’s easy to overschedule our kids. We want the best for them, so naturally we want to expose them to as many growth opportunities as possible. But, sometimes less is more.

Kids need down time- unstructured time to explore, play, and just be kids. If you can’t remember the last time you saw your child doing nothing, you’re definitely overscheduled!

As hard as it may be, take a look at your week and cut at least one thing out. Make a list and prioritize your child’s activities, then cut the one with the lowest priority. If you’re having a hard time prioritizing, ask yourself a critical question: Is the motivation for the activity coming from me or my child?

If it’s coming from you, get rid of it. Once you’ve decided what can go, try replacing it with special time and watch your child’s stress melt away.

Now you’re armed with five simple ways to improve your child’s gut health:

  1. Replace gut-irritating foods with gut-healing foods
  2. Supplement with a high-quality probiotic
  3. Ditch the antibacterial soap and make dirt your friend
  4. Avoid antibiotics if possible
  5. Decrease stress

Back to our simple but not easy dilemma... this is where our powerful tool for dealing with overwhelm comes in - Start Small.

Pick one thing from this series to focus on and start there. Think of it as a marathon, not a sprint.

Next week I’ll share my favorite kid-friendly, gluten-free brands as well as some of my favorite kid-friendly, gut-friendly recipes.

If you have any thoughts or questions, leave them below. The Sensory Mom community and I would love to hear from you.


FREE SPD Guide

Who has the time to read dozens of books on SPD?

Download my FREE 25 page PDF guide to Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder.