Helping small children understand that diet may affect their mood
If a very small child gets tummy aches, diarrhoea, or feels itchy with some foods it is relatively easy to help her understand the connection. It is a little harder when eating the foods means having trouble getting to sleep, or having nightmares. But it is even harder if the main symptom is ‘irritable, touchy or cranky’ or ‘tantrums’ or ‘demanding behaviour’.
The first step is to chat about it even if you don’t think the child understands all of what you say. It is right to say that diet has an effect: that on her special food she is not grumpy. You can also put it positively by saying that she is happier or ‘more her real self’ on her special foods. These words do not imply good or bad as whether we feel cranky or happy we still have to do the things we have to do, and just because we do not feel so good is no reason to talk crossly or hit someone. It is a gradual process to understand that how we feel is separate from what behaviour we have while in this mood. These are quite difficult concepts so it will take time to have them understood. You can say that an excluded food is a food we will ‘eat one day’ so we can see if it is one that makes her feel grumpy or cranky, and stop her being her real self.