CentraState - Healthy Directions

Spring 2016

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Focus and Concentration Issues Challenge Many School-Age Children By Vatsala Bhaskar, MD A few years ago, a stressed-out mother poured her heart out to me over the phone. She explained that her 10-year-old son was unable to focus in the classroom and his grades were close to failing. The school wanted to test him for ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder). "I do not want to give my son medication, " she said to me. "There has to be something I can do." As a pediatrician in the Freehold area, this issue is continuing to gain momentum as classroom time increases while recess, gym class and free time decrease. Are all of our children on their way to being diagnosed with ADHD? Certainly not. But given today's demanding educational calendar, many kids just aren't wired to "sit still" for such long periods of time. Over the next few years, I started working with the family. They adopted my recommendations below and partnered successfully with their son's teachers to help at school. Eventually, the child not only made the honor roll, but was awarded both citizenship and sportsmanship awards at his middle school graduation. If your school-age child is struggling with concentration issues, try making the changes I've outlined below; you may be very surprised by the positive outcome: NUTRITION—THE KEY FACTOR IN YOUR CHILD'S MENTAL AND PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT Not only can certain foods help build a better brain, but they can also supply children with the focus needed to navigate their multiplication tables, sit calmly during story time—and still have the energy for a game of freeze tag. First and foremost, kick sugar-laden (refined sugar) foods and drink products out of your kitchen. It is hazardous to growing children and a top contributor to concentration issues. For optimal mental and physical function, kids need to consume protein, healthy fats, dairy, fruits, vegetables and grains daily, always starting with a low-sugar breakfast. Introduce healthy "brain foods" as early as 18 months old, including whole grains, fish and avocados—and always provide water to keep the whole body functioning optimally. SAFETY AND SECURITY OF A DAILY ROUTINE Children of all ages need a family life centered on a safe and secure environment supported by bonding activities, positive parent-child communication, and consistent encouragement. It's also important for them to learn that it's OK to fall out of the routine occasionally; you will get back in sync eventually. Finally, set up an "office" (just a desk or table will do) for each child, which is neat, tidy, well-lit and reserved just for "homework time." FREEDOM TO PLAY AND PURSUE INTERESTS Today, children are not moving enough. It's rare to see children rolling down hills, climbing trees and chasing butterflies just for fun. How often do you drive by and see an empty playground on a beautiful day? Spending time outdoors refreshes young minds, allows kids to de-stress, socialize, problem solve and ultimately improve concentration when it's time to study or learn. Participating in sports or pursuing music also requires focus but in a lighter, more fun fashion. After adopting these recommendations for a few months, you should see improvement in your child's performance and demeanor. If not, talk with your pediatrician about additional diagnostic tests to determine if further medical intervention might be needed. Helping children develop successful focus and concentration skills provides them with a powerful tool for future success in high school, college and beyond. FIND THE RIGHT PEDIATRICIAN FOR YOUR FAMILY Dr. Bhaskar is a board-certified pediatrician on staff at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold. CentraState Medical Center's Physician Finder offers an extensive roster of highly skilled board-certified doctors, including pediatricians, at www.centrastate.com/physicians or 866-CENTRA7 (866-236-8727). If your child is facing a life-threatening medical issue, dial 911. If you need urgent care, CentraState Medical Center's Pediatric Emergency Department offers a segregated family-friendly treatment area overseen by on-site pediatricians. Find out more at www.centrastate.com/peds-ED. HD Vatsala Bhaskar, MD, board-certified pediatrician 11 www.centrastate.com Spring 2016

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