Behavioral issues and mental illness in children is increasing at an alarming speed. More and more children end up on mood and behavior controlling medications (which often come with a slew of side effects). However, these medications often serve as bandaids and don’t fix the root causes. This raises the question, what are the core reasons for many of the behavioral issues and mental illness in our children today? And, how can parents help their children overcome these issues?
Managing our own health , energy and self-care becomes significantly harder when we have children to care for. It gets even harder with kids with special needs, or who have psychological health challenges, or mood and behavior issues (things like ADHD, autism, bipolar, depression, anxiety).
So how can you help your kids function optimally, while also taking care of your own health and energy levels in the process? And if you don’t have kids, how can you better understand your own psychological health (and the factors that underlie so much of the depression, anxiety and other psychological health issues that are becoming so common today)?
That’s the subject of this week’s podcast.
This week — in one of my personal favorite podcast episodes of all time — I speak with Dr. Nicole Beurkens. Dr. Nicole has a PhD in clinical psychology, masters degrees in nutrition and special education, and is a board-certified nutrition specialist. She’s the founder and director of Horizons Developmental Resource Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is a bestselling author, award-winning therapist and published researcher.
Dr. Nicole has made it her life’s purpose of helping children overcome psychological and behavioral issues by focusing on the root cause. Her approach to helping children recover from mental illness is unique and helps the whole family get better health, less stress, more energy, more connection, and most importantly, more happiness.
Listen in, as Dr. Nicole shares the 4 simple lifestyle changes that can help fix behavioral issues and mental illness in children (and help parents manage stress and energy.)
In this podcast, we’ll cover:
- What Dr. Nicole has found to be the main causes of mental illness and behavioral issues in children
- Why we have seen a drastic increase in mental illness in children over the past 20 years
- The problem with most typical psychologists and psychiatrists
- The questionable science behind so much of the paradigm of psychiatry
- What does science really say about treating psychological health?
- The connection between nutrition and mental health
- What makes parents choose to medicate their children (even when they don’t want to)?
- Dr. Nicole’s 4 keys to fixing behavioral issues and mental illness in children
- 4 Natural Lifestyle Hacks To Fix Behavioral Issues And Mental Illness In Children (And Manage Your Energy As A Parent) with Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD -Transcript
- Why supporting parents is essential for helping a child with mental illness
- What science actually says about treating mental illness in children (and adults)
- Why we see an increase in children with mental illness and behavioral issues
- The importance of social life and community for good mental health
- Why behavioral issues and mental illness in children can be connected to lifestyle (and why medication may not be the answer)
- Key #1 – Ensure healthy nutrition
- Key #2 – Getting proper sleep
- Key # 3 – Ensure your child moves every day
- Key #4 – Establish a good relationship with technology
- 4 Natural Lifestyle Hacks To Fix Behavioral Issues And Mental Illness In Children (And Manage Your Energy As A Parent) with Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD – Show notes
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4 Natural Lifestyle Hacks To Fix Behavioral Issues And Mental Illness In Children (And Manage Your Energy As A Parent) with Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD -Transcript
Ari Whitten: Hey everyone. Welcome back, to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. Today, I have with me Dr. Nicole Beurkens, who is a very unique combination of a psychologist, nutritionist, and special education teacher. She has 20 years of experience supporting children, young adults and families to improve behavior naturally.
She’s an expert in evaluating and treating a wide range of learning, mood and behavior challenges including ADHD, autism, anxiety, mood disorders, and sensory processing disorder. Dr. Nicole has a doctorate in clinical psychology, masters degrees in special education and nutrition and is a board certified nutrition specialist. She’s the founder and director of Horizons Developmental Resource Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is a bestselling author, award winning therapist and published researcher.
And all around bad ass, I can say from experience. She’s become a personal friend of mine over the last few years and I’ve had the pleasure of having many conversations with her and this is a much, much, much delayed a podcast episode because I’ve been meaning to have you on for a very long time.
So welcome, Dr. Nicole it is such a pleasure to have you on.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Thank you so much for having me. Excited to be here.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, so, you know, first of all, kudos to you on an amazing background and all these impressive credentials. I mean, you know, I’ve gone to a PhD program in clinical psychology. I’m literally the only one, in all the years of cohorts that were going through the program, I’m literally the only one, and including the teachers, who knew anything about nutrition among all of those people.
So you are in a very unique position that you are a PhD in clinical psychology and you have a masters in nutrition and a masters in special education. And you’re a board certified nutrition specialist. And I think this is really impressive but also extremely important because as I was going through my PhD program in clinical psychology and I’m looking at the research on all these things.
One of the things that I kept running into is that there’s actually a whole bunch of research on nutrition interventions that relate to different psychological disorders and things like that. And none of that is taught to anybody who is getting their degree in clinical psychology, which is remarkable.
The disconnect between psychological disorders and then looking at the physiology and the underlying cellular and metabolic health of that individual, I mean, it’s just massive. So I just applaud you for going out and educating yourself and getting credentials in all these different areas so that you can really help people in the way they deserve be helped.
Why supporting parents is essential for helping a child with mental illness
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Thank you. And you know, it’s interesting, I didn’t set out to do any of this. Life sort of has taken a weird and winding path. I mean people would say, “well you’ve got all these different degrees, like how did this come about?” And, you know, really, I mean my undergrad work was in special education and I thought. ”I love kids, I love working with kids who are challenging and…”
So went into special education and really enjoyed that. Enjoyed being a classroom teacher. I specialized in working with kids and teenagers with pretty severe emotional behavioral kinds of disorders. I would take the kids nobody else wanted to work with and that was great. I would close my door and nobody bothered me and I would just do my thing with them and it was awesome and I really enjoyed it. But what I quickly started to see, was that there was a very limited impact I could have in the six to six and a half hours a day that I had those kids.
And I had the parents coming to me saying, “help us know what to do to help our kids. Like it’s awesome. They’re doing well here. They’re learning all of these things, but we’ve got them the other 18 hours of the day and we’re really struggling.”
And I really began to see the need for pulling parents into the process, for giving them education tool support that they needed. And ultimately that’s what led me then to pursue my doctoral work in clinical psychology because I wanted to be able to work with families from the point of first having concerns about their kids, through being able to do good evaluation and diagnosis for them, and then all the way through the treatment process.
And that’s really what spurred me to go on and get the clinical psychology degree. And in the process of that, started doing a lot of work in private practice with families, shifted away from the school environment and more towards working one on one and in groups with parents and helping them to understand what was going on with their kids and to be able to have tools and strategies to use because parents are really left out of the process.
And you know, parenting in general is not for wimps, right? I mean, you know that, you’ve got a child. I have four kids and man kids do not come with instruction manuals and it is an energy intensive effort to be a parent. And especially then when you have a child who has got special needs, whether those are developmental disorders like autism or ADHD, or they are mental health or behavioral types of conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar, you know, those types of things.
It takes the stress of parenting in general and just amps it up significantly. And so parents really have a lot of need for support and yet tend to be left out of the equation. And so my work with them, you know, really was focused on, “here are the things that you need to understand, here’s what you can do,” and really helping to empower parents.
And so, you know, I got my doctorate in clinical psychology, had my private practice going doing all of that good stuff and began to realize that a lot of the kids that were coming in to see me and to see my team here at the clinic had lots of different things going on, were on lots of different psychiatric medications and weren’t getting better.
And that really led me to start to question several things about how I had been trained. You know, you mentioned at the opening that your experience in the realm of your training in psychology was that, you know, there really was no talk about the body, about physical health, about nutrition. And that was my experience too.
I mean, I was trained in a very good, typical clinical psych program where the idea kind of is that everything from here up, you know, the brain, the mind is stuff that we deal with in psychology. And everything from here down is stuff that’s in the realm of physical medicine, whatever.
And unfortunately that’s the prevailing view I think in medicine, in mental health and it’s so wrong. It’s so wrong because the brain and the body are so interconnected. So I had been trained in that way. You know, my role was to do good counseling, to work with families, to use psychosocial and behavioral interventions, and then if kids were still needing support, refer them to their primary care doctor or their psychiatrist for medication.
So I’ve been trained that way. That’s how I practiced until I began to realize, “wait a second, if this really works, how come all these kids are coming to me still with all of these symptoms even though they’re on medication?” And, in fact, I began to notice that many of them seemed to be getting worse over time as medications were increased, medications were added and changed. It really caused me to delve back into the research literature and look at the whole issues around medication. What psychiatric medications are, what evidence we have for them, particularly in kids.
At the same time as I was looking at that and realizing that maybe a lot of how I’ve been trained was not really consistent with what the research says. I was noticing a pattern, too, in a lot of the kids that were coming to us that they had a lot of physical health problems.
So here we have kids with brain based issues, “mental health problems.” But also many of these kids had things like asthma, terrible eczema, chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, terrible sleep problems, all of these types of physical issues. And that also began to interest me to say, “huh, is there some kind of connection here?”
Now, today that seems ridiculous to me to think that I didn’t know that there was that connection. But honestly, that’s not how we’re trained in these fields to think about things. So again, I went back to the research and started exploring what was out there and found, much like you did, that wait a second, there’s this whole body of research out there that talks about the connection between the physical body and things that are going on with physical health and the brain and mental health symptoms.
So that really got me interested in that whole area. And that’s what led me to go back and get another masters degree in nutrition because I really wanted to understand the connections, I really wanted to understand the science of that so that I could utilize the best protocols to help patients. And you know, I’ll tell you, that really has made such a significant difference adding that piece of nutrition, of integrative health, of the science of that into the treatment that we provide for kids and for parents really just led us to be able to have such better treatment outcomes for kids. And another tool to empower parents, to empower them to improve their own health.
Because one of the things with kids is if we’re going to make changes for them in the realm of their nutrition and health, we want to do that as a family. And many of the kids who come to us, their parents also have significant mental or physical health types of symptoms.
And so the interventions that we’re using with kids become really helpful for adults as well. And the parents end up feeling better, functioning better. The stress level comes down in the entire family. And it’s just a good thing all the way around. So that’s sort of the winding story of how I started in a classroom with special education and ended up having a clinic where we do all of these integrative kinds of things.
What science actually says about treating mental illness in children (and adults)
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. Well, I wanted to interrupt you like five times during that to comment on so many different things, but I restrained myself. But, you know, a couple of things. To go back to this point of the training that you received and this kind of this gap between the training and science.
I really want to emphasize that like the sciences is there already. I mean, granted, there’s certainly much more we can learn and we will continue to learn over the next 10, 20 years. But there’s already a huge amount of science showing that, you know, things like depression, anxiety, autism, things like learning disabilities, things like bipolar disorder, that there are nutrition and lifestyle links to these conditions. And you know, just like bipolar disorder for example, there’s a mountain of evidence on circadian rhythm and sleep for example.
So, you know, there’s a saying that I kind of like, it’s cute, it’s obviously hyperbole, but it’s a nice saying. It’s like “doctors know more and more about less and less until the point where they know absolutely everything about nothing.”
And if we think about like a trend over the last, maybe just even 100 years, there’s been a trend from like, you used to go see your local doctor, you know, regardless of if you had a broken arm or you got stabbed or you have an infection or you’re giving birth or whatever it was. You’d go see your local doctor and he was a systems thinker and understood the whole body and and how everything ties together and his job was to have generalized knowledge. And there’s been a trend towards greater and greater specialization, so learning more and more about less and less.
And we’ve lost systems thinkers. We’ve lost the people who understand all the pieces and how they all tie together. And it’s vital. It’s absolutely vital. I mean if you take somebody with a psychological condition like bipolar or depression, they don’t just need talk therapy. They also need all of these other nutrition and lifestyle factors, and even things like community, that can’t just be provided by people who are solely looking at things from the paradigm of, “oh, this is all just a problem that’s in your brain or in your mind and we need psychological techniques to fix it.”
It’s not just that. So, but the people who are in those paradigms can’t see how all of the pieces tie together. So again, I just really appreciate the fact that you’re a big picture systems thinker, you’re truly a holistic thinker. And I think that kind of approach is vital and necessary and unfortunately becoming all too rare in today’s world.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: I want to say there that it’s so interesting to me, of getting back to the research evidence piece. It’s bizarre to me that these types of things are the things that are considered alternative. Or, you know, not the norm or these aren’t the things based on science. And that’s especially interesting to me when we compare things like nutrition and lifestyle interventions to things like psychiatric drugs.
If we want to talk about which side of that coin is lacking in evidenced basis in the research. It’s amazing to me that we accept the idea that psychiatric medications are a necessary, integral and research based part of treatment to the point where that is just accepted practice. That is the “gold standard of practice” to put people on these medications and yet we have far less research evidence for that then we have for some of the basic nutrition and lifestyle things that we’re talking about.
And it’s just interesting how that whole way of thinking has evolved as well, particularly in mental health which used to be much more about some of the things that you mentioned. Much more about building community for people and getting to the root of what was going on in their lives and all of those kinds of things and helping them improve their lifestyle and improve their way of thinking and their relationships in order to to have a better quality of life. And we have really shifted away from that, and it’s more to you go to a couple of counseling sessions.
And if that hasn’t totally taken care of your problems, then we’ve got one of several different kinds of drugs that we can put you on, the little magic pill that will help you feel better. And it’s just so bizarre to me that that’s become the accepted practice when we have all of this research evidence for these other kinds of things.
Ari Whitten: I really feel compelled to like reach through my computer screen right now and give you a huge high five for saying that, because yes, exactly that. I agree 100 percent and it just, it shows you how much of common practices and what are the standard practices are more a function of the zeitgeists, the sort of the trends and the perspectives of that particular age in history.
What’s a popular way of thinking about things in any given moment in time as opposed to what the science actually knows about these conditions. Like if we were treating mental, psychological conditions based purely just as an extrapolation of here’s all the evidence, everything we know about what’s involved with these conditions, now let’s create a profession that is designed to help people with these conditions. It wouldn’t be a psychologist, it wouldn’t be a psychiatrist.
It would be what you are right now or what I am, you know, or like people who are big picture thinkers, I mean specifically for psychology related conditions. More what you are since you’re doing some of the more necessary one-on-one work.
But, you know, it would be people with a very broad education in nutrition, lifestyle, psychotherapeutic techniques, understanding the social aspects of things. Big picture. But anyway, I digress just because I’m particularly passionate and I love that we’re so on the same page on this subject.
One other thing you mentioned in passing that I want to get back to since this is the Energy Blueprint Podcast, is how all of this ties into energy and fatigue specifically. So parenting is rough, you know, just being a parent can wear you out pretty darn good. It can be stressful, you can be sleep deprived, you have much less time for self care. There’s all sorts of aspects of being a parent that tax you and can potentially lead to burnout, fatigue, sleep deprivation, energy problems.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Yeah.
Why we see an increase in children with mental illness and behavioral issues
Ari Whitten: It’s even more amplified in kids, like a lot of the kids that you work with who have learning or psychological conditions. So how, you know, first of all, why is this becoming so prevalent that so many kids in today’s world are experiencing mental health problems?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Yeah, it’s a great question. And it’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and get asked about really frequently because there’s absolutely no denying that the number of children with neurodevelopmental and/or mental health conditions continues to rise. I mean, that’s just the facts of the statistics of it.
Back when you and I were kids, the numbers that we were using for prevalence of autism was one in 500 kids, one in a thousand kids. Just in the 20 years that I’ve been practicing and working with these populations of kids, we’ve gone from one in 500 to a thousand number, to now we’re at one in 36 boys in the United States is diagnosed on the autism spectrum. You know, getting, that number grows every year. ADD and ADHD, same thing. You know, we can all think back to a kid maybe who was in our class who now would be diagnosed with classic hyperactivity or something like that. But now what we’re seeing is we have 11 percent of school aged children, so kindergarten through high school, 11 percent of children in our schools are diagnosed and/or medicated for ADD or ADHD.
And we see those statistics playing out across the board in things like learning disabilities and mental health issues. The rates of anxiety and depression in children are skyrocketing.
So something is clearly happening that is driving this trend of more and more and more children having these kinds of issues. And we know, and this study was actually done already almost five years ago, but you know the last sort of prevalent study in this country for chronic illness in kids showed that 54 percent of children in the United States have some form of chronic illness.
Whether that is a physical chronic illness, or a mental or behavioral or developmental chronic illness. That’s a little bit over half, and that data is already five years old. So these are things that impact almost every family, if not every family in some way.
And I think there’s several things that I’ve observed and that the research shows are driving this. One is certainly the environment. The physical environment that children are growing up in now is markedly different than it’s been for any generation prior.
So our physical environment has a lot more toxins in it. The air is filled with a lot more toxins. Our soil becomes more depleted and more toxic over time. Our water is filled with toxins and all kinds of things in the physical environment that take a toll on people in general, adults and children.
But the thing about children, they’re kind of the canaries in the coal mine because kids’ systems are smaller, less developed and much more sensitive and vulnerable to these kinds of environmental insults.
Particularly when we’re thinking about babies, even in utero and then through infancy and toddlerhood and preschool years. So our kids are showing us through developing, you know, the high prevalence of these chronic illnesses that something in the environment is going on.
Food supply, another big issue. Not only has the quality and the nutrient density of foods that are grown reducing over time, but we’ve got kids eating a much more processed diet than ever before. So you know, when I think about how I ate growing up and certainly how my grandparents ate, very different than how kids are eating now.
Kids are doing a lot of fast food, a lot of microwaveable meals, a lot of packaged kinds of foods. And we know from the research that the chemicals, the additives, many of the things that are used in processed foods have a negative effect on not only physical development but particularly on brain development. So the nutrition and food piece of it is certainly an issue.
I feel that technology is an issue that is partly driving this trend. Kids are more sedentary than ever before. And a big part of that is because many of their activities, their social lives, their preferred things that they like to do are on a little screen this far from their face.
And while I think that certainly there’s a role for technology and devices in the lives of kids, what has happened is we’ve gone to this extreme where kids are spending so much time on that stuff that they’re not getting even basic physical movement that’s needed to fuel normal development and health.
And one of the things that many parents are not aware of is that movement, physical activity and moving the body is critically important for brain development in children, particularly from birth to about third grade.
Movement and physically exploring and moving through the environment sets the foundations in the brain for all higher level learning. So, you know, academic learning, higher level social relationships, those types of things have as their foundation brain development that comes as a result of movement. So when we’ve got infants, toddlers, elementary aged kids spending a lot of their time sitting, lying down, passively sort of consuming things on screens, that is taking a tangible toll on their brain development and the research shows that. So I think that’s another piece.
And I would also say just the busyness of life and the toll that that takes on parents and on family systems. So, you know, we were talking actually before we started the podcast just about how busy things are and when you have kids it’s like time flies and there’s so much going on and things move fast. And I think, especially a lot of parents, we’ve got two parents in the home who are working in the majority of situations. So they’re busy with that. Kids are in daycare or school. Parents feel compelled and feel pressured to have their kids in all kinds of activities, right? From a very early age.
It’s sort of like keeping up with everybody else in the neighborhood or the school system with making sure that your kid is in all the sports, all the extracurriculars, all of these things. And all of that contributes to this busyness level that creates a ton of stress that takes a toll on parents, on their energy levels, their ability to really be present and engaged with their kids and parenting in a way that supports kids development. And it just takes a toll on kids because kids need downtime. Kids need unstructured free play time and a lot of them aren’t getting that.
So I think that that’s another factor, too. And there’s lots of other things that we could get into that, but I think those are really some of the core trends that I’m seeing and some of the core things that we’re seeing come out of the research that are explaining why it is that we’re seeing so many more kids who are ending up with these kinds of symptoms and diagnoses.
Ari Whitten: What do you think about the role of social life and community in all of this? How does that figure into this and, you know, and I know you know, one of the books that had a big influence on me is Phillip Cushman’s, it’s called “Constructing the Self.” I don’t know if you… are you familiar with that book? It’s kind of an obscure book, but basically I’ll give it like sort of a very brief encapsulation of what this book is all about.
But the basic idea of it is there’s been a dissolution of community and even of the family unit over the last several generations since, especially since World War II. And this is obviously an America centric sort of focus of this book. So speaking specifically about the US. There’s been a dissolution of the family unit, of the extended family, of community more broadly, of like sort of more of like you’re a part of this particular community who has these beliefs and traditions and so on.
And we have all sort of… we’re all living in these little boxes in huge cities of millions of people, but we’re less connected than we ever have before. And that, that loss of human connection and community has been a big part of this rise of mental health problems.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Yeah, it’s so true. And I think there’s two phases of development in particular where that takes a huge toll on children and their brain development, and their mental health. The first is in the early developmental stages of life, so infancy, toddlers, preschool years because children, their brains develop through relationship with other people. That’s just hands down.
Developmental psychologists have been researching that and have understood that for decades now. That the way that you nurture and support a child’s brain to develop in all areas is through key relationships with other people. Parents obviously being the primary people that they’re engaging with. And then as they get a little older, that circle starts to spread to, you know, extended family members, siblings, maybe daycare providers, teachers, those kinds of things.
But children’s brains develop through relationships with others. And so the more disconnected we get, the busier we get, the more we get absorbed as parents in our work and our devices that we’re on in our free time, you know, maybe holding the baby on one hip and scrolling facebook on the other.
Over time that does take a toll and it does negatively impact the development of young children because the way that they learn about the world, the way they learn about relationships, the way their brain literally grows new connections is by experiencing the world alongside and through the eyes and the experiences of primary caregivers.
So that’s one key developmental stage of life where we see that idea of connection and social relatedness being really important. And then the other one that I notice, really this has an impact on now, is with teens and preteens and their social development and their mental health. And there are several really important studies in the last year that have come out on this issue showing exactly what you said, that yes, we’re connected to the world more so than ever before when you look at being connected through the internet or whatever else.
But we’re more disconnected socially and relatedly than ever before. And so what we’ve got is these preteens and these teens who are very vulnerable and susceptible to, you know, dynamics in relationships at those ages. And we’ve got this profound disconnection from real life interaction and engagement and relationships and it’s a lot of online social media, all of those kinds of things. And it really is having a very detrimental impact on them.
So, it’s not that these things aren’t important for kids at other ages too, but I think those are two key areas that I would want parents to really be thinking about in relation to how the disconnectedness and the disengagement that can come as a result of the busyness of life, being away from extended family, all of the technology, those kinds of things where it really can take a toll.
Why behavioral issues and mental illness in children can be connected to lifestyle (and why medication may not be the answer)
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Beautifully explained. So now that you’ve gone over all these different layers of, you know, lifestyle, nutrition, toxins in the environment, other environmental factors, how the social and interpersonal dynamic has changed over the last few generations, and the loss of community, and all these different things. The solution is obviously just to put people on medications that affect their neurotransmitter balance, right?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Clearly, because obviously the real root of the problem is that we have a Prozac deficiency and that, you know, so we just need to give a pill and it’s all taken care. Of course. NO!
Ari Whitten: Makes sense to me. I mean, I just, it just seems like everything that you were saying up until this point just leads logically directly to the conclusion that we need to administer pills that correct the problem that’s going on in the brain, right?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: When you think about it that way, right, and it’s like that’s total insanity. And yet that’s what we do. “Oh, your teenager is feeling sad and anxious and you know, is withdrawing from things. Well, clearly that’s a Prozac deficiency. You know, they have depression. Let’s give them some medication.
Let’s not examine what’s going on in their life and what the family dynamics are and what their diet is like and how they’re sleeping and the fact that they’re on social media and texting with, you know, friends or whoever and trying to resolve their friend’s crisis at three in the morning when they should be sleeping.
Let’s disregard all of that. And clearly this is just a chemical imbalance. Or a child who is having significant emotional and behavioral dysregulation, throwing temper tantrums all the time, not seeming to learn from consequences or from their experience, very dysregulated kids. Well, clearly they need an anti psychotic drug to help them with that.
Let’s not explore what they’re eating, whether they’re sleeping, what the family dynamics are, let’s not looking at any of that.”
And it’s ridiculous when you think about it, but yet that’s what we do. And there’s several problems with that that I think parents need to be aware of. Because the reality is if you’re a parent who has a child with these kinds of struggles and you go into their primary care doctor, their pediatrician or even to the school and say, “I have concerns about my kid, you know, here’s what’s going on.” Chances are you’re going to walk out of that appointment with a prescription for a medication. Or if you go to the school, they obviously can’t give a prescription. What they’re going to say is “well, you know, yeah, your kids is really having problems in the classroom, you know, these behavior problems, inattentive whatever. You should really see your doctor about, you know, an ADHD diagnosis and some medication.”
And that’s what the experience is for most parents when they raise these concerns. And we’re so conditioned to, you know, when people in white coats say things like that to us, we think, “okay, this is a person who knows what they’re talking about. Oh my gosh, if they feel like my child needs medicine than I should give my child this medicine.”
What’s interesting though, while most parents will do what the physician or the prescriber or whoever the professional is telling them to do. There is this voice in the back of the majority of parents minds going, “I don’t really feel good about this.” And I know that from 20 years of working with parents who 99.9 percent of them will come in and say, “I didn’t want to put my kid on the medicine, but this is what they told me to do and I didn’t know what else to do and so I felt like I should do it.”
So parents, I get why they’re doing it. They’re not bad people. They’re not trying to make poor decisions. They’re being told by people that they’ve been taught to respect and to trust that this is what they need to do. And so they’re following instructions. And yet there is a big part of them that feels like “uh, this probably isn’t the right thing.” And then that just gets confirmed when for the majority of kids putting them on these medications doesn’t resolve the issue.
And that gets to one of the big problems with utilizing medication as a primary, you know, approach or even as any part of the approach to treatment for these kids because they don’t work for the majority of people. And that’s not even just for kids, that’s for adults, too. The research literature on psychotropic drugs is sketchy at best.
I mean, that’s just the reality of it. And people like to argue with me about it, you know, other professionals do. But I just say “read the research literature on it.” You know, we have very sketchy basis for using these medications.
The studies that are done are very short term. We don’t actually have any good longterm studies that show us what happens with these medications in the body over time, especially not for children. So parents are led to believe that these things have been well researched, well studied, they’re very safe. And the reality is we have almost no research evidence to support the use of most psychotropic drugs in children.
Stimulants for ADD/ADHD are the exception. There are studies that have been done, obviously, particularly on kids, but no longterm studies. We don’t have studies that show us if you start giving a kid Ritalin at five, what might that look like for them at 20 or 30 or 75 years of age. And there’s real reason to question now looking at studies that are being done on older adult populations, the impact that these kinds of drugs do do have on that.
What we’re finding is that as adults age the longer they’ve been on these kinds of prescription medications, the more likely they are to have problems like dementia, Alzheimer’s, significant emotional issues, those kinds of things. This is looking at older adults who started on these kinds of drugs in adulthood. What does that look like then for the last two generations of kids who have been started on these kinds of drugs when they were young or when they were in elementary school? What does that look like for them? We don’t know.
The reality is we have no idea and there’s every reason to believe that there’s going to be big problems for these kids down the road. Just looking at what we know and understand about side effects in kids who take them. And that’s the other issue, so not only do we have a very poor research basis, we also have a slew of problematic side effects that accompany these drugs and particularly in kids.
Again, kids bodies and brains are more vulnerable, they’re more sensitive than adults are. And so we’ve got these medications which we really even have very little dosing guidelines on. Most parents don’t realize that either. When a psychiatrist or, you know, a prescriber of whatever sort is prescribing these, for most of these medications, there are no specific guidelines for how to dose them in kids. So they’re taking a guess. “Well, this kid’s maybe half the size of an adult, so we’ll give them half the amount…” They’re really, there’s no rules or standards for that because the studies haven’t been done. So…
Ari Whitten: Yeah, and…. sorry, no go ahead. I’m kind of interrupting.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Well, no. I was just going to say that I think it’s important for parents to understand that. That it’s very much a guessing game and we know there’s a ton of problematic side effects. Everything from worsening their mood and behavior and anxiety problems to causing acute suicidality in kids who were not suicidal. Now we start them on these medications. They’re acutely suicidal or aggressive or a danger to themselves or to other people.
Things like insomnia, causing attention problems. And then we’ve got the physical side effects, chronic headaches, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, all of these types of issues, you know, reduced appetite, all of those things.
So we’ve got poor research basis, medications that haven’t been looked at long term or even short term in many cases with children. We’ve got a slew of side effects and the bottom line is no medication on the market today treats the actual root cause of any of these problems.
So at best, even when we use a medication to try to address a certain symptom, we’re putting a bandaid on that. Even when it’s effective. Because it is true for some kids, they go on a medication like a stimulant and they focus better. Okay, great. But what happens eight hours later when it wears off? Well now they can’t focus again because those medications, even when they seem to work, are a bandaid. They’re not treating the root issue.
And that really is my biggest concern and my biggest complaint about how we treat kids with these medications is we’re not ever getting to the root. We’re just putting these bandaids or we’re actually making worse problems. And we’re never really identifying or treating the underlying reasons why they’re having these symptoms in the first place.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, you nailed it. And that was beautifully said and I’m so glad that you explained that because I was actually wanting to interrupt you to explain exactly what you just said. Which is that there’s this kind of problem with the fundamental paradigm that is popular in the world of modern medicine and that includes psychiatry and to some extent psychology, but more conventional medicine, allopathic medicine.
Which is that the fundamental thing that they’re trying to do is basically look at things on a smaller and smaller level. So right now you have the macro, you’re looking at me or you as the person. Then we go beneath the skin, okay, what’s happening beneath the skin? Okay, what’s happening in the bloodstream, what’s happening at the cellular level, what’s happening with different molecules and biochemical pathways or neurotransmitters, or neurotransmitter receptors and things like that?
And then once they get down to those kinds of levels and they say, “oh, bipolar disorder. We’ve detected this abnormality at the biochemical level” or you know, “depression or anxiety, we’ve detected this abnormality, therefore we found the cause. Okay, so now that we found the cause, because we’ve looked at things on a very micro level and found this biochemical imbalance, we’ve found the cause, now let’s create a drug that interrupts this biochemical pathway in some way and alters it to get it back to normal.”
So that’s like the fundamental paradigm that has been popularized not just within conventional medicine but in the general public as well. That’s how most of the world now thinks about these problems.
But let’s now present a different way of imagining this. Just hypothetically, let’s imagine that, what if that biochemical pathway is also affected by your sleep habits? What if it’s affected by your circadian rhythm and the fact that we live in a modern environment that is chronically disrupting our circadian rhythm? What if it’s affected by the food you eat, you know, novel idea, right?
What if it’s affected by whether you move around versus be sedentary? What if it’s affected by whether you get sun exposure? What if it’s… and have vitamin D and things like that?
What if it’s affected by your interpersonal relationships and community and or whether you’re just sitting in front of your tv or your computer or your phone all day and not interacting with other humans, you know, novel idea, right?
What if it’s affected by… all of those biochemical things on a micro level are affected by all of these things that are, again, back on the macro level that are clearly visible. And, in fact that is, as of course you know, that is of course actually what’s happening.
So the problem is that the modern paradigm has just stopped at the level of the biochemical level and they’ve confused what’s happening there, which are mostly just biochemical correlates of a person’s environment. They are a reflection of their environment and lifestyle. They’ve confused what’s going on there with the cause.
So it’s, to make this really blunt, it’s like the equivalent of somebody smashing their foot with a hammer and then getting pain and bleeding and swelling and then being like, “I have pain in my foot, I guess I need to take a pain killer, a painkilling drug and, and you know, a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug or some aspirin or something like that to get rid of the pain” as I continue to smash my foot with a hammer. That’s the paradigm of modern medicine. It’s exaggerated, but that’s largely what it is.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. And the way that I describe it to people, and there are several people in the world of functional medicine that talk about it this way too, it’s like if I’m sitting on a tack and that’s causing pain, the solution is not to take Tylenol. The solution is to get rid of the tack, take the tack out, right?
That’s really what we’re talking about shifting towards, is a way of conceptualizing of these symptoms and these disorders from a root cause. A way of thinking about it that says, okay, if we can understand the factors that are driving these symptoms, then we can actually start to address those things from the bottom up and start to actually help people heal, help them to improve.
And that’s a totally different way of thinking about it then as you said, the current paradigm. And I’ll tell you, pharmaceutical companies have done an exceptional job of marketing this paradigm and this way of thinking about it because that’s really where it stems from.
This idea of one chemical imbalance, one pill. They have sold that to the world. They’ve sold that to people in the field of medicine, people in the field of mental health, the public at large. I’ve got just about every patient who comes in here, adult, child, whatever they’ve been told, “you have a chemical imbalance. You need to have this medication for the rest of your life to fix this chemical imbalance.”
And the reality is there’s no research to support that. So it’s a huge issue and I’m just really passionate about helping parents understand the bigger dynamics of what’s really going on because ultimately that’s what’s empowering. And you know, what I think is the best thing that we can do for these kids is to help parents feel empowered and capable and competent to help their kids.
Because there is no worse, more stressful feeling in the world than being a mom or being a dad and feeling completely helpless to do anything to support your kid. That’s like the worst feeling in the world. And so my thought is if we can help empower parents by understanding, look, this isn’t something that’s fundamentally flawed about your kid or your parenting. There are reasons why these symptoms are happening and once we understand those, you can do things that will improve those.
That’s incredibly empowering, it’s incredibly energizing, it’s incredibly stress reducing for parents, which then just helps the whole family system and helps the kid.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Beautiful. So let’s go practical.
Key #1 – Ensure healthy nutrition
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Yeah.
Ari Whitten: What specific things should… you know, I think it’s obviously very important that, as you said, that you empower parents with the knowledge of how they can start to help their children beyond just psychiatric drugs.
What are some of these other treatment options and what does this look like on a practical level? And maybe you can give specific examples as far as, you know, obviously there’s a lot of different conditions we’re kind of all blending together, behavioral issues from autism and psychological conditions and things of that nature. So I’ll let you kind of take it whatever direction you feel is appropriate.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Yeah, I mean the good news is regardless of what diagnosis we’re talking about, all of these symptoms exist on a similar type of spectrum and so it’s the same five core foundational things that are important for parents to think about, whether your child has autism or your child has depression or whatever else they may have.
So let’s practically dive into each of these. And I want to give the parents who are listening, you know, a couple of takeaways of things that they can think about in each of those areas. So the first area, and we’ve already been talking about it, is nutrition. There’s just no way around it, what we feed our kids, the food that we put in our bodies has a huge impact on how our brain functions, a huge impact on our mood, on our anxiety level, all of those things. So, you know, I tell kids and parents, when you put garbage in your body, you’re going to get garbage out, you’re going to get garbage behavior, you’re going to get bad moods, those kinds of things.
That’s a simple way of thinking about it. And I am not one of those, you know, professionals who says, “well, you have to go 100 percent organic, start growing your own food, like don’t, you know, don’t go and buy anything from the supermarket.” Look, I am a mom of four, I’m very practical with this stuff.
I’m not shooting for ideal. I’m just shooting for helping parents to make better choices and understanding what those better choices might be. So some of the key things nutritionally, one is in the realm of diet is looking at feeding kids what we would call more whole foods and less processed food. So a whole food is the food the way that it grows or the way that it is, right? So a piece of fish or a potato, a carrot, a, you know, an apple, those types of things. Processed foods are foods that have been manufactured in some way.
There’s been chemicals or things added to them. They tend to be in boxes and bags and those types of things. And you know a food has been processed if you look at the ingredients and it’s more than just what should be in it, right? So a great example is apple sauce. If we were going to make that at home, pretty simple set of ingredients, right? You need some apples, you need some water, you may add a little bit of, you know, some kind of sweetener to it.
But you look at apple sauce packaged on the shelves, which a lot of kids are eating in their lunches or for snacks, and suddenly you see this list of about 75 ingredients on there. It’s a great example of that food has been very heavily processed. And what we know from the research is that the chemicals and the additives and the things that are put in these processed foods can have a very negative effect, not only on kid’s body health, so things like obesity and, you know, blood sugar and those kinds of things. But also on their brain health.
So reducing the amount of processed foods and shifting to more whole foods is one very simple thing that parents can start to do. And if it feels overwhelming, just pick one thing. Just say, “okay, I’m just going to start having more fruits and vegetables available in the house.” Or “I’m going to start reading packages. If I’m going to buy apple sauce,” for example, “for my kid, for a snack, I’m going to compare the options at the store and if there’s one that just has a couple of ingredients and one that has 30 ingredients, I’m going to go with the simpler one, the less processed option.” Very basic things that we can do.
Another basic thing from a food intake perspective is shifting kids towards drinking more water and getting rid of things like the soda pops, the juices, the sports and energy drinks, you know, all of those types of things. That seems like such a basic thing, but it can have a tremendously positive impact on kids because water is really the liquid that we need.
And especially for children, they need to be well hydrated, not only for physical growth but for brain development. And we have a lot of kids walking around pretty dehydrated. And when we think about the amount of sugar and chemicals that are in a lot of things that kids are drinking, very detrimental.
So I think beverages can be a simple starting point, too. And again, does that mean you have to go get rid right now every non water beverage you have in the house? No. And in fact if you have a family situation where you have tended to drink a lot of pop, a lot of juice, a lot of those types of things, it’s going to take some time.
I don’t recommend for most parents for their sanity and their own stress level that they just cold turkey all this. Especially if you have older kids. Start talking about the, start just gently making some shifts in a better direction. The one thing that I would say if parents are looking for what is one type of food or ingredient that would be really essential to avoid giving kids, it would be artificial sweeteners.
Things like aspartame, sucralose. There’s a lot of names that these artificial sweetening chemicals go by. Basically anything that you might see that has the word “diet” or “light,” you know, in it is going to be something with artificial sweeteners. The companies have gotten clever now though. They know that parents are looking for things with lower sugar, so you have to watch the ingredient lists, too, for products marketed towards kids that say “no added sugar.”
Okay. But you have to read what the chemicals are. And the reason I’m so firm about that is because those are known neurotoxins and kids are especially sensitive to them. And so there is just really is no place for those types of artificial sweetener chemicals in a kid’s diet. And it’s relatively easy to get those out. There’s a lot of other options.
In fact, you know, I had a mom say to me just recently, she was a huge Diet Coke drinker. The kids had grown up on Diet Coke and she was like, “I don’t know if I can get rid of soda pop.” I said, “listen, I feel so strongly about getting the aspartame out of your diets that I would rather you go to just drinking regular Coke, that would actually be better for you at this point. Let’s like wean to that and then we’ll work on getting off of that.” That’s how strongly I feel about that and just the difference that that can make for kids. So those are some of the things food wise from a nutrition standpoint…
Ari Whitten: And real quick on that subject. I know the point of artificial sweeteners is still kind of a contentious thing and there’s still debate back and forth and people on both sides. Have you seen in your practice very noticeable results as kids get off of consuming those things?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Absolutely. It’s one of the things that I see the quickest difference in. It’s also one of the things that I see driving a significant number of physical health symptoms in kids as well. So it’s just a good thing I think for parents to get in the habit of reading labels and watching for some of those things that, you know.
Other ones along with that would be things like food dyes, you know, the artificial dyes, anything that has like a color and a number next to it is an artificial food dye and there’s some good research…
Ari Whitten: You mean that blue number 45 doesn’t grow on trees?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: No, it’s shocking. I know those blue Slurpees are not like that from the blueberries they add to that. I’m sorry to let you down with that. So I think that’s another type of ingredient that’s pretty easy for parents to look for. And the good news is there’s a lot of companies now that are recognizing that parents are becoming wiser to this stuff and are using more natural, you know, food colorings from natural fruit and vegetable dye.
So it’s pretty easy at this point to find replacements for some of maybe your kid’s favorite snack foods or treats or things like that. There’s a lot of options available in the mass supermarkets where you can find things that don’t have those ingredients. So it’s a good starting point for people, I think.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. One more question on diet. I love how you’ve simplified things. Obviously we live, as you know, and we’ve had discussions about this in the past, but we live in a culture of diet fads and extreme diets and to be frank, very stupid extreme diets.
When parents are often, you know, kind of themselves being influenced by some of these diet trends that are going on, they may be inclined to start tweaking their kid’s diet, you know. If they start believing this food and that food are evil foods that are the source of all of our problems, they may end up putting their kids on those kinds of diet fads that we only find out years later, or many of these people find out who are not necessarily reading the science, find out years later that maybe are not as good as they thought they were. What is your recommendation for people to avoid doing that?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: I think it’s really important for parents to think about balance when it comes to food. Any diet that goes to extremes of cutting out whole groupings of… like no carbohydrates. Let’s talk about no carbs for a second because that’s a very popular thing right now, right? The whole more extreme Paleo/keto kinds of things. And I had a couple in here several weeks ago now where they had, at one of the gyms that they attend, had listened to some seminar where, you know, the person doing the seminar recommended the ketogenic diet.
So they decided to go on it and, like you said, then they started feeding the family this way. They have three kids. It is very problematic for kids. We cannot think about children and their nutrition needs in the same way that we think about adults simply from a growth standpoint. And so kids need the full complement of nutrients.
Kids absolutely need carbs to fuel growth. They absolutely need things in all of the different categories. So things that maybe are not as problematic for adults who have reached their full adult height and all of that and are not physically growing anymore, totally different ballgame. When we’re talking about kids, particularly at different developmental points where they have huge need for more calories, for a balance of energy sources in their food, you know, infancy, toddlerhood, and then adolescence. And a lot of times parents think about feeding their kids like they think about feeding themselves. And that’s not appropriate when we consider the growth needs of children.
So I really steer parents and families away from diets that emphasize taking out large portions of the types of foods that are, that we know are supportive of health. Now there are exceptions. You know, I’m talking about some general guidelines for parents to think about when they have kids with these kinds of issues.
There are children with some types of conditions where a very strict or restrictive type of diet is important. Seizure disorder, certain types of seizure disorders would be one example where we know that a well done, well put together ketogenic diet plan can be essential for some children to manage their seizures.
But if a child is going to require something like that as part of their medical treatment plan, that needs to be done with a team of professionals who understand how to meet the child’s growth needs, how to meet their overall nutrient needs in the context of that diet.
That cannot and should not be done because I read six articles on the internet where somebody said, “oh, this would be a good thing to do, so I just start playing around with it.” Same thing with some children we know on the autism spectrum or with related more significant neurodevelopmental kinds of issues.
There is good research evidence that diets that restrict things like gluten and dairy, for example, or specific carbohydrate diets or, you know, certain types of Paleo diets can be helpful for them. Again, you have to have a foundation first of good healthy parameters around eating, which means we’ve got as many whole foods as possible. We have a good balance of fruits and vegetables and all of the compliment of things that provide the nutrients that kids need.
Because what I see quite a bit of is parents who have gone to a lot of professionals even and their kids had been put on different kinds of diets. And what’s interesting to me is you can still be on a junky diet even on one of these specific nutrition kinds of plans. And gluten and dairy free is a great example of that.
I see many kids come in and they’re like, “well, we’re doing this gluten and casein free diet.” And I’m like, “great, let’s talk about what they’re eating.” And they’re eating a diet that’s full of packaged, processed, junkie gluten and dairy free stuff. That’s not a nutrient dense health or brain supportive diet even though it doesn’t have gluten or casein in it. So I think that it’s really important to get those foundations in place and then if we need to dig deeper and look at removing certain types of foods or having certain types of composition to the diet, great. Then let’s do that if it’s necessary.
But the reality is the majority of kids with these kinds of issues see significant benefit just from putting the foundations of good nutrition and good eating in place.
Key #2 – Getting proper sleep
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Beautiful. So what else beyond nutrition? We are a little overtime here, so maybe two more factors, whatever you have time for.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Let’s talk about the other two that I think are critical. The second is sleep. And I think again, parents underestimate the impact of sleep and quality sleep and getting enough sleep on kids’ development and their brains.
And there’s just a slew of research showing us that children with these kinds of conditions – autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression – many of them have disrupted sleep. They aren’t getting enough sleep and it becomes a chicken and an egg thing. Okay, so does the condition caused the sleep problem or is it the sleep problem causing the condition?
The bottom line is it really doesn’t matter from the standpoint of we need to address the sleep problem. Some of the big things that parents should be watching for, you know, if your child has difficulty settling down and falling asleep at night, if they are having episodes of night waking pretty consistently where they’re not sleeping all the way through the night and they’re, you know, obviously not an infant anymore.
Episodes of night terrors, recurrent nightmares, kids who have chronic issues with nightmares, kids who are doing a lot of sleep talking, sleepwalking kids with restless legs or just restless sleep in general. You know, the kind of kid that nobody wants to be in the bed with them because they kick and thrash and you know, are banging into the wall next to their bed all night. Snoring. Those types of things.
All of those are red flags that we have a sleep issue, either a quantity or quality or both issue with sleep that needs to be addressed. And you know, there’s studies that have been done specific to ADHD, for example, that show that anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of kids diagnosed with ADD or ADHD actually have an undiagnosed and untreated sleep disorder. That when you treat the problems with their sleep, suddenly they don’t have the symptoms of ADD/ADHD anymore.
That’s how powerful sleep is, and it is for all of us. I mean obviously we all need good sleep to function. But again, children are more susceptible to problems with sleep and so it’s really something for parents to be aware of and to pursue with their healthcare provider, to work with somebody who will really help them be able to address that.
So that’s the second area.
Key # 3 – Ensure your child moves every day
And the third one is movement. Kids cannot grow and develop properly, cannot regulate their moods, their stress level, their learning, any of that stuff if they’re not getting adequate movement. So ensuring that kids are having periods of physical activity during the day. And unfortunately we can’t count on them getting that at school anymore. Most schools now, even from very young ages are reducing or eliminating recess periods.
They’re not giving the kids time to go out and do physically active play.
Gym classes are getting cut. So kids even from kindergarten on are spending a lot of time sitting at desks, sitting behind computer screens. So as parents we need to make sure then that after school, in the evenings, on the weekends, that they’re getting physical movement.
That we are requiring that they put down the devices or turn off the TV and that they go out and ride their bike, run around with the neighbor kids, climb a tree, take a walk, do whatever it is they’re going to do. That’s really critically important for just their mental health, for their physical health, all of that.
So hopefully that gives people some tangible things to think about in those three areas, at least, that they can start applying with their kids.
Key #4 – Establish a good relationship with technology
Ari Whitten: One more I want to ask you about, technology. Obviously this is a huge issue and I know we’re just scratching the surface of your knowledge here and we could probably do a part two, maybe we should do a part two.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: That’d be fun!
Ari Whitten: But technology, like this is a huge problem as you talked about earlier. I have a niece for example, who is a beautiful really smart girl who has grown up in a great family with us and very connected to us, connected to her uncles, me and my brother, as well as my parents, her grandparents and she’s been just such a joy all of her life.
And then she got into her teenage years and now she just has no interest in connecting with the family and she just wants to be left alone and stare at her phone. She will stare at her phone for hours and be annoyed if anybody tries to talk to her. So, you know, technology is a big problem. Is there… and it’s obviously very addictive. Is there any thing that you would recommend on that front?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Yeah. I recommend that parents be aware of the negative impact that extended and extended periods of time and overuse of technology can have on kids. And it’s interesting because we’re the first generation of parents parenting kids in this 24/7 sort of internet connected, wifi connected, device connected society, right?
Our parents didn’t have to deal with that and so we’re figuring out as we go along and a lot of adults are struggling with managing their own use of these devices, right? So it’s important to be aware that the research is showing more and more very clearly that over use of these devices is creating problems for our kids. So the bottom line is moms and dads, we have to be willing to be the bad guy in this situation.
We have to be willing to put limits in place and we have to be willing to enforce those limits for the good of our kids.
No kid is going to be happy with mom or dad saying, “time to turn the TV off, time to put the smartphone down,” you know, whatever it is, we’re doing something else. Or “you have to go outside and play, you know, practice your piano, get your homework done, whatever before we do the devices.” No kid’s going to be happy with that.
But it’s one of those things where we don’t need our kids to be happy about it. We need to do that for their own good. And we need to model limits and boundaries for ourselves and healthy use for ourselves of these devices.
Really tough to tell a 13-year-old you can’t, you know, use your device for hours at a time when they see us come home from work and basically spend the entire evening sitting and scrolling through facebook or doing work on the computer or whatever.
So we need to be models for that. Two things I want parents to think about. The first is device free meal times. Simple basic rule and standard that I think is important and necessary and that every parent should implement in their home.
Nobody needs to have an electronic device at the dinner table, at the lunch table if we’re all eating together. When we’re eating, that is a time to socialize, to engage with one another, to engage with our food, to be present in the process of eating and spending time together.
And we can do that for 15 or 20 minutes without having our devices. So a very simple starting point. The second thing is devices in the bedroom at night. Big, big no-no. And it’s something that I work with parents on extensively. Nothing good happens in the middle of the night for your kid on the internet period.
There’s no reason a child of any age needs to have access to the internet or their devices in the night. I know they will tell you “but I use it as my alarm, how am I going to get up in the morning?” You can go to Target and buy a $5 alarm clock just like we all had growing up, and lo and behold, they can get up in the morning.
So I’m really, really firm on that with the families that I work with because I see the really detrimental impact that device usage has on kids sleep patterns, on their ability to regulate their behavior and their emotions, and just socially and emotionally the stuff that they might be engaging within those unsupervised hours at night.
Even if they’re telling you, “oh, I’m not doing anything.” No, there’s just… it’s one more thing that parents don’t need to deal with the stress of monitoring what kids are doing on those devices at night. You have a spot in the kitchen or wherever you want to put that, where everyone in the family puts their devices before bedtime.
That’s where they’re charged and housed overnight and we can engage with those when we wake up. We’re not having those things in the bedroom during the night.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. Well, Nicole, I have absolutely loved this interview and I love the work you’re doing, I think it’s so, so important. And I think also, I mean I just love all of the positive repercussions of this. You know, how this trickles down to so many different areas of the happiness and the health of the parents and the kids and their ability to relate to one another in a happy, healthy way. And I mean it’s just, you’re just spreading love and happiness throughout so many different layers through the work that you’re doing.
And I just, I really appreciate everything that you do. Also, I personally want to recommend to everyone that they go out and get your book. It’s not a new book. It’s not like you’re just launching this, but it is wonderful.
You gave me this copy when we met about a year and a half ago, “Life Will Get Better: Simple Solutions for Parents of Children with Attention, Anxiety, Mood, and Behavior Challenges.” And you can get it on Amazon. And anything else? Where can people follow your work and learn more about what you do?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Yeah, so my website is drbeurkens.com, or they can also go to the clinic website, which is horizonsdrc.com. We work with families throughout the United States and all over the world. So they can connect with me there, lots of free videos and articles and lots of resources to help parents plug into these ideas and to just learn more about the things that we started to scratch the surface with tonight.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. Well thank you so much Dr. Beurkens. Oh by the way, how do you spell your last name? So your website is drbeurkens…
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Yeah, that’s a good one, it’s b-e-u-r-k-e-n-s.
Ari Whitten: Wonderful. So drbeurkens.com. I hope you guys have enjoyed this interview. I personally have absolutely loved it. So thank you again Dr. Nicole. And have a wonderful night.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD: Thank you so much.
Ari Whitten: Hey there, this is Ari again. One more quick thing before you go. Just make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel, The Energy Blueprint. And also make sure to subscribe to this podcast on your favorite podcast platform, whether that’s iTunes or Stitcher or anything else. Hope you guys enjoyed this interview and I will see you again next week.
4 Natural Lifestyle Hacks To Fix Behavioral Issues And Mental Illness In Children (And Manage Your Energy As A Parent) with Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD – Show notes
Why supporting parents is essential for helping a child with mental illness (3:00)
What science actually says about treating mental illness in children (and adults) (10:49)
Why we see an increase in children with mental illness and behavioral issues (17:43)
The importance of social life and community for good mental health (25:22)
Why behavioral issues and mental illness in children can be connected to lifestyle (and why medication may not be the answer) (29:54)
Key #1 – Ensure healthy nutrition (45:30)
Key #2 – Getting proper sleep (1:00:05)
Key # 3 – Ensure your child moves every day (1:02:27)
Key #4 – Establish a good relationship with technology (1:03:44)
Get Dr. Nicole’s book Life Will Get Better: Simple Solutions for Parents of Children with Attention, Anxiety, Mood, and Behavior Challenges here.