Extreme Tantrums? A Simple, But Surprising Cure

How to stop an epic meltdown before it ever starts!

Do your child’s emotional breakdowns wear you out?

We all have bad days sometimes. But what do you do when emotional meltdowns are a regular event for your child?

Extreme behavior is a red flag. It’s a message that’s telling you something your child might not be able to say or even understand. In this episode, Carol and Anne help you consider a surprising fix for extreme behavior.

This week’s Parenting Practice

If your child is melting down, throwing fits, or having any other extreme behavior, take time to evaluate: Could the meltdown be connected to diet? Make one significant improvement to your family’s diet this week.

Transcript of podcast episode

Anne: My husband and I were leaving on a date night and her babysitter was coming over who she knows and loves, and just was freaking out, “Don’t leave me.” For 20 minutes she’s crying and I was like, “What is going on?” It finally clicked.

Carol: Welcome to “The Child Whisperer Podcast.” I’m your host, Carol Tuttle, author of the best-selling parenting book, “The Child Whisperer.” I’m with my co-host, Anne Tuttle-Brown.

Anne: “I’m desperate for some help. I’m a Type 1 and my daughter is a Type 1, three-and-a-half-year-old. When I tell my daughter that she can’t have something right now or she can’t be doing the activity she’s trying to pursue, I’m often met with the most epic tantrum I have ever seen in my life. She absolutely screams and yells and her face turns purple and she reaches octaves that hurt the dog’s ears. I watch other kids in my home and have a one-year-old son. I feel like she’s really hurting the others with that type of screaming. I have tried everything. I cannot do this anymore. She’s supposed to go to preschool in the fall and I would never send her because I just couldn’t do that to another teacher. I am so lost and really need help and guidance.”

Carol: This behavior, if it’s true to what she’s saying, is extreme. So, that’s always a red flag, this extreme need for being heard. And so, if you’ve gone down the kind of typical, what are the child’s emotional needs, how do I discipline this, cause and effects, you know, giving them consequences… Now, she is young, so she’s three, so there’s not an ability to reason with her. The thing that comes to my mind when I am presented with these extreme behavioral scenarios is what’s their diet?

We have some really interesting statistics nowadays. 60% of all school-aged children in the United States are considered overweight. And then there’s a phenomena, you explained this other….with your child isn’t necessarily presenting overweight, they’re like…

Anne: It’s called thin on the outside, fat on the inside. If you were to test the liver of a child that’s thin and a child that’s overweight, if they’re unhealthy, the fatty liver will still be the same.

Carol: So that they’re not necessarily prone to…

Anne: It’s a state of health. And so, they’re…

Carol: Yeah. They’re not prone to weight gain but they have the, on the internal side of things, they have all the…

Anne: They’re compromised. Their bodies, their organs, yeah.

Carol: They are compromised as if they were overweight. And so, this says to me, especially in the… all children are more supported by a healthy diet, but these statistics have tripled. The overweight percentage has tripled since the 1970s. I was raising children in the ’90s, primarily. And we go back to the ’70s and pre-’70s, we didn’t have a lot of processed food. The ’50s were where they reintroduced the processed food experience, where boxed cereals became the thing. And it sort of presented the fact that you were doing well economically, you could afford these more convenient foods.

But pre-1970, we ate a more whole-foods-based diet. And now we are into this several decades, I’m a believer of the fact that each generation, if you come from a family that’s had a more standard American diet of convenience, processed foods… Fast foods are on a huge increase. You know, you didn’t have fast food options in your hometown in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s like you do nowadays. You’re going to choose those just out of the sheer time factor and budget factor.

There’s dollar menus, you know? So, this adds up. And all of a sudden, some of our children are now the brunt of these dietary side effects over decades. Could your child actually be…this extreme behavior is provoked by being compromised internally physically on the health level? So, I would have a parent examine what do they eat for breakfast? You know, trace the food history here. What are they craving? What are they asking to eat?

Because a lot of times, kids will get addicted to the sugar, the high simple carb experience. Their body’s craving it because it’s learned that’s the fuel it needs when, actually, it needs the opposite. It needs complex carbs. It needs balance.

Anne: It needs high fats. It needs proteins.

Carol: It needs healthy fats, proteins. I have my minor, my baccalaureate undergrad work is in nutrition through science and nutrition. I was always very fascinated by nutrition, food as an influence to our bodies.

Anne: And I’ve done a lot of research on my own.

Carol: A ton. You’ve done a lot. That’s something I invite parents to consider before you take your child for a medical diagnosis is to, on your own, examine their diet. Now, you may think you’re doing okay when, really, what your child needs is a complete overhaul. You know, is your diet primarily a whole food? Meaning, they’re not eating anything out of a box. The earth grew it. The earth produced it. And so…

Anne: The closer it is to its natural state, the better it is, more whole it is. That’s what whole food is.

Carol: Do you look at ingredient lists? Do you see how many ingredients there are?

Anne: Grams of sugar. Sugar’s in everything.

Carol: Yes. In fact, if you look at the sugars, they should be in single digits.

Anne: Per serving.

Carol: You can read on any label, per serving, if the sugar amount is in double digits, avoid it. That means there’s more…it’s gonna peak their blood sugar. It’s gonna spike it fast, which will provoke this kind of behavior, and then they’ll have a crash which will provoke the other extreme of misbehaving. So, they’re being fueled into these behavioral disorders by the foods they’re eating. Is your child vulnerable to certain foods having an effect on them?

Anne: Now, this can be a very overwhelming world because we’re all eating every day. And as a parent, it’s your job to get your kids food. And kids can be picky. And there, once you go down, you just say, “Okay. I wanna make some changes,” you can get blasted with so much information. Okay. Do I go gluten-free, Paleo, vegetarian? Is everything they do organic now? It could be super overwhelming, so you need to use your intuition as a parent and just take it one step at a time.

Carol: When a Type 1 mother, in this case the question was submitted by a Type 1 mom, if they try and go too far into it too quickly, they’ll fail at that because they won’t be able to hold the change. It’s too big of a change. The first thing I would start with is what does your child eat for breakfast? Is it coming out of a box, you know? Are you buying…even Cheerios. You know, a lot of cereals…

Anne: You got pasteurized skimmed milk option perhaps, and so you’ve got void of nutrients and fat. And then, you’ve got a high carb breakfast cereal. That’s a lot of sugar without a lot of nutrients. So, can you replace that with some oatmeal and some cream? Throw in some fat, thrown in some butter. Can you replace it with some eggs and a green smoothie or a protein smoothie? There are a lot of simple options. My Type 3 six-year-old, she’ll eat a lot of variety.

My Type 2 two-year-old, it’s been a different story, but he has some favorites and they’re good and they’re clean. We just keep clean option. He loves good meats and he loves some noodles. Doesn’t eat a lot of veggies, but as long as we’ve got a good balance of carbs and proteins and high fats, for me, that’s what I’m focusing on. That’s what works very well for him.

Carol: And it may be met with some pushback because you’ve trained your children, their bodies are responding and they think they need these foods. And so, Jenny, she’ll get in these phases where she’ll kind of trigger Type 1 nature. She’ll go, “We’re cleaning things up.” And she’ll starve them out.

Anne: Overhaul.

Carol: She’ll just say, “Well, they’re gonna just eat it at some point, so I’m not offering the other.” Don’t buy it. It’s not in your house, you know? You don’t see any of those foods in our home. You don’t see them in your home. And since I’ve gotten more educated on what a carb is in our world and how high-carb the American, standard American diet, is and they’re not complex carbs, they’re simple carbs.

Anne: Well, they’re not met with that fat to help balance it out.

Carol: There’s no balance in them.

Anne: When your body digests those carbs, it turns into sugar. If you meet it with a fat, it helps slow down that process.

Carol: Yeah. If you start to count carbs, you’ll be amazed how many carbs your children are eating between their snack foods and the things that you’re feeding them.

Anne: And the reason fat is so important is because it helps brain development. So, you gotta get that in their diet to help… And so with the meats or fats, oils, nuts, there’s all sorts of things. There’s so many resources available. And I think it’s interesting, in the last 5 to 10 years, there’s been such an emphasis on whole eating again because people are seeing the effects of what the standard American diet is doing. And there are amazing testimonials of diet changes and the effects that they have on children and their behavior.

Carol: Yeah. Well, we’re 50 years into this. You’re seeing, as you said, the side effects and being able to tie it into diet and go, “We gotta get back to basics.”

Anne: And even if the three-year-old’s diet isn’t terrible, what’s the diet been of the generations and is there some compromise there? And she needs a rebuild of this nutrition that she’s lacking.

Carol: A great resource is a blogger that made this change in her own children’s lives. It’s called “100 Days of Real Food.” She can enroll you and get you started. So, it is doable, practical, and affordable.

Anne: She breaks it down. You can start with 10 days. She has great cookbooks, great resources on her blog. And we’ve used her and just a lot of really kid-easy recipes. Now, you had mentioned getting it out of your house. We don’t have candy in our house. We don’t have a lot of sweets in our house. You know, we’ll make cookies, we’ll make sweet things but it’s all coming from whole ingredients.

So, my daughter went to a birthday party and came home with a bag full of candy. And she knows how I feel about sugar, and so she’s always a bit timid.

Carol: She probably was thinking, “I gotta get as much as I can.”

Anne: And she brought it home and there were all these wrappers. There were probably 10 pieces of candy that she…in little fun-sized pieces, but that’s way more candy than she’s used to eating. And I was like, “Okay. Well, give it all to me. You can have one more piece for later,” because I don’t wanna like rip it out of her hand. I don’t want her to leave home when she’s 18 and eat all the junk food in the world because it was so confiscated at home, you know? So, I’m trying to strike a balance and I’m trying to teach her to listen to her body and what she feels is correct.

And so, I took the candy. And about three hours later, a major meltdown. My husband and I were leaving on a date night and her babysitter was coming over who she knows and loves, and just was freaking out. “Don’t leave me.” For 20 minutes she was crying, and I was like, “What is going on?” It finally clicked. She had so much sugar. And I thought it would’ve been immediate response, but this was I guess after now her blood sugar had kind of dropped and she was just reacting.

And I pointed it out to her. I said, “Katie, this is not your normal behavior. Do you think this could be connected to all the sugar you ate?” I kind of just left it at that because, again, I don’t wanna be nagging.

Carol: Did she say anything?

Anne: I guess she was thinking about it. I don’t think she was in the mental state to be reasoning. And after that, I said, “Katie…” because I had kind of… You know, it’s the time of year with the holidays. You’re eating more sweets. And so, I said, “Katie, why don’t we go off sugar for three days? And if we can meet that goal, we can have a movie night on Wednesday.” And so, we kind of checked in with each other and she said, “Mom, I have my goggles. I’ll see you at work. I’ll know what you’re eating.”

She said she had some goggles that you gave her, actually, where she could see what I was doing. We were keeping each other…

Carol: Like a seer?

Anne: Yeah.

Carol: Like, “I’m looking through my crystal ball.”

Anne: “Grandma gave it to me.”

Carol: No kidding. I don’t recall that.

Anne: Yeah. She could be making that.

Carol: I’ll have to chat with her about these goggles. I could sell those.

Anne: The point is we were keeping each other accountable. We did the three days. We had our movie night. And so, I love having these conversations as a family. You know, what does your body need? I’ll say, “Eat three more bites.” “I’m done, Mom, eating dinner,” and I’ll say, “Katie, ask your body how many more bites do you need.” And she will. She’ll talk into her own body, “How many more bites do I need?”

And sometimes it’ll be two. Sometimes it’ll be five. Sometimes she’ll be done. And that’s what I’m really trying to build ultimately with my children is I’ve done a lot of research and I have an understanding of what I think is correct and appropriate for our family. But I don’t wanna just nag on them and say, “This is how it is.” Because they all come with their different preferences and tastes, which I’ve really seen with my two-year-old. I want to help them develop an understanding of how to support their body and give it nutrients and be drawn to that naturally, not just, “This is what Mom wants me to do.”

Carol: That’s great. I teach that practice in my book, Mastering Affluence—how to create physical affluence. If you need some support and understanding how to create that kind of inter-relatable experience with your body, and then be able to engage your children in that practice, mastering affluence, really, that’s a great job of teaching that. I’d also say that in this approach, you think of giving up sugar. I’m not willing to give up… I eat very healthy. I eat a low-carb diet.

And I’m not willing to give up my yummy foods or my baked goods or my sweets. And so, the product that’s my go-to, Lakanto, a low-carb sweetener, is a natural plant product sweetener that has no sugar as we understand sugar. It does not spike the blood sugar. It’s a sweetener without the side effects of sugar. And it’s actually very palatable. It has similar sweetness factor to sugar. It’s basically…

Anne: It’s the best sugar replacement that we found.

Carol: It’s the best one I found. I’ve tried them all. There’s quite a few on the market now. There’s a link in the copy. Lakanto.

Anne: L-A-K-A-N-T-O.

Carol: Yes. It’s a regular product now in our home. And I bake cookies. I use almond flour versus…because I don’t eat grains.

Anne: Yeah. I was gonna mention that another option is even if you’re not buying a sugar replacement, cut the sugar in half in any recipe and then you’re gonna be just fine. And play with other flours besides just white flour. Almond flours or gluten-free flour. You can just kind of mix it up. Variety. It’s going to get more variety into your kid’s diet.

Carol: You may find, though, that some of your whole food and more healthy recipes, as sweeteners, require honey or maple sugar, but they do spike the blood sugar still. So, if getting off sweeteners that spike blood sugar is helpful for your child’s brain. I know that’s my primary reason I do not eat sugar is for my mental health. My brain is compromised if I give it sugar. I’ve been off it now for two years. And when I do have something I wanna try that has sugar as the sweetener, I’ll eat a small portion just because I cannot… I don’t have the appeal to it.

Anne: You know the side effect.

Carol: But I’ll notice that spike in my blood sugar. My brain gets foggy. I get very sleepy. It affects my mood. And then I have to come off that. So, I’m very aware of the effects because I eat so little of it. So, it is affecting your children. Sugar has been incorporated as a standard… You know, we’ve kinda glorified it. It’s this wonderful addition to our diet.

Anne: And there’s so much. I mean, just notice too how you…

Carol: Corn sweeteners. Ooh, they’re almost in everything.

Anne: Are you using sugar as a reward to, you know, a celebration? And it has its place, whatever. You can have a birthday cake on your birthday, but it needs to be balanced…

Carol: But when you’re dealing, let’s go back to the original question, extreme behaviors, my first thought is always: what’s going on with their diet? These are extreme behaviors.

Anne: So, extreme behaviors maybe need some extreme changes, some extreme modification. That’s a good point. So, your parenting practice this week is evaluate. Could the meltdown be connected to your child’s diet? And make one improvement to your family’s diet.

Carol: Thanks for listening. For more support, go to thechildwhisperer.com where you can purchase the book, subscribe to our weekly parenting practice e-mail, and find the transcription and audio of “The Child Whisperer Podcast.”

Anne: If you’re listening on iTunes, thank you for leaving a review. If you have a parenting question, please send it to [email protected].

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