Helping "Moody" Kids

Try completely eliminating foods from one of these sources for ten days, and see if there is a marked improvement in mood, resilience, energy, etc. If not, move on to eliminating foods from another group. (If you're not quite sure, on one occasion give the child a lot of the food after the ten days and see if there is an obvious return of symptoms.) Alternately, you could do a food sensitivity panel (requiring a blood draw, ouch) with a licensed health practitioner who is experienced in its analysis.

If you've determined that there is, indeed, a food sensitivity, yes, it's a pain in the neck, but better to know than to be in the dark. There truly are plenty of alternative, tasty foods; we know this from personal experience, since our son is sensitive to wheat, etc.

Give a basic, high-quality supplement. In a perfect world, all children would get the nutrition needed for optimal health (beyond being merely not-sick). But in the real world, few get all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients they need. Therefore, look for a high-quality "multi" (the best are found at your health food store) in a form that your child will take.

Consider specific supplements. Two nutrients have a particular benefit for mood issues, and they're listed just below with recommended dosages. Since these are natural substances the body is used to (and in fact, needs to survive), they generally have no side effects, and are very safe to use.

  • Essential fatty acids -- We suggest "molecularly distilled" fish oils (flax oil is an option for vegetarians, but it's often just not as effective as fish oil, alas). Try about half a teaspoon a day for a young child, either liquid (if they'll take it, perhaps mixed in their food, but not heated), or in small capsules; Nordic Naturals is an excellent brand.
  • B vitamins -- Deficits in all of the B-vitamins have been shown to lower mood, and vitamins B-6 and B-12, and folic acid are particularly important. Try to get your child to swallow a high potency B-complex pill, ideally in the morning (it could be a little stimulating), and don't worry about the natural result of turning his urine bright yellow. You could also try B-12, which is placed under the tongue to dissolve.

Maybe try 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). You've probably heard of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that has a major role in regulating mood. The body builds it from the amino acid, tryptophan, and the next-to-last step is 5-HTP. You can get this supplement in any health food store, and it has good research support for mild depression in adults. It's smart to be cautious about anything that affects a developing child's brain, but if you've tried everything else and there are still problems, for a child 6 or older (perhaps younger if you're working with a licensed, nutritionally-oriented health practitioner) you might consider 50 milligrams a day, taken in the morning.

Take good care of yourself, and your marriage. It's a simple fact: the best way to support your child's well-being is to take good care of your own, and to keep teamwork and intimate friendship alive with your mate. Moody children bring extra stresses to their parents: a special reason to nurture yourself.

Rick Hanson is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson is an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son, ages 15 and 17. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the authors of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, published by Penguin.

Copyright © Jan and Rick Hanson. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.