Gluten and Your Child

When I first heard the term gluten allergy, I thought we were talking about a new diet fad. I had no real understanding of what it meant or how someone could be allergic to gluten. I didn’t even really understand what gluten was.

And because it was becoming so prevalent and so many people were making a decision without any kind of official diagnosis, it definitely seemed like some kind of fad.  And I was hesitant about people anytime they mentioned that they had a gluten allergy. 

Like do you really have an allergy or is this self-proclaimed?  I mean, I knew a few people who had a legitimate allergy, but they seemed few and far between. And many of those people who  claimed to be gluten free don’t even eat gluten free foods anymore.

So I became curious about the subject, but figured I’d never really have to worry about it and left it alone.

But then we did…

And it came with my oldest, Landon, who will be 8 in just a few months. And while he is the sweetest, kindest, most caring, helpful, and loving child, he also had this mean streak where the smallest things would set him off.  (Like literally a vein-popping-out-of-his-forehead kind of angry!) He wouldn’t take instruction without a fight. And it was exhausting to parent him. 

We knew who he was and who he could be, but this anger was, at times, very overwhelming. And we didn’t always know how or what would calm him down and allow his heart to hear what we were telling him.  Or at least distract him for a bit.

There were even times we brought it up to his pediatrician at well visit checks. She would give us a few suggestions to try and as he got older and things not changing much had suggested we look into a behavioral specialist.  

This broke my heart to hear.  I felt like a failure as a parent. That I didn’t know how to help my own son.  

A few weeks prior to his next appointment, a close friend told me how they had decided to try a few weeks of gluten free for their daughter as she was having acid reflux issues that meds weren’t helping, and there was a family history of gluten intolerance issues.  After the three weeks they found out that not only did their daughter not need the meds anymore, but that she also didn’t seem as emotional about small matters anymore. And when she would have gluten, these symptoms would reemerge.  

During the appointment, I asked our pediatrician if there could be a link to his behavior and gluten. She was adamant that there could not be. She said if there was, there would be many more symptoms with the behavior such as weight loss, failure to thrive, and dental problems to name a few. None of which he had. 

But, this conversation with my friend kept playing in my mind.

I tried to do some research and really couldn’t find much on the topic of behavior and gluten tied together.  Behavior could be a symptom but it was always with several other symptoms like our pediatrician had said.  And a gluten allergy or more so, an intolerance, is very difficult to diagnose.  

So I talked to my husband, and the two of us agreed that we would try to be gluten free for two weeks. And if at the end of the two weeks we didn’t see any changes, we would contact a behavioral specialist to go from there. We figured we had nothing to lose. 

FRIENDS…I am not kidding when I say that three days later, we noticed a huge change! It was like we had a completely different kid! I could NOT believe it!

Now, we still had some issues and his behavior was not 100%.  But he was able to calm down enough to hear us. And only sometimes would he argue if we gave him instructions, not all the time like before. He was the kind, loving, caring kid we knew he was!

About a week in from starting this, was Father’s Day. We called the restaurant to confirm if they had gluten free options before we went.  When we got there, the server didn’t know about gluten, and we figured that if he had a little it wouldn’t hurt him too much. I mean, he had been eating it all his life so far, right?

Well, the next morning, we woke up to a very angry child. Snapping and yelling at everyone.  And that’s when it hit us, that this whole gluten thing, was something we needed to be very aware of.  

We weren’t mad at the server or the restaurant. In fact, I’m kind of grateful for that experience because it confirmed that the gluten was what was hurting him.  It was a learning experience. 

And being gluten free has been a bigger learning experience than I could’ve imagined. We’ve learned how he, specifically, responds to foods that “may be contaminated” vs “certified gluten free”.  We’ve also learned that straight milk, is also an issue for him. (I’m assuming this comes from the fact that cows eat grains which contain gluten and it gets passed down through to the milk.)

We’ve also learned that there are varying degrees of intolerance or allergy. And what works for one person may not work for another.  

We’ve learned that it takes a good two to three weeks for it to be completely out of his system and to be the kid we know!  

After the initial two week trial of going gluten free, I sat my son down and talked to him about how he was feeling since we started this.  I was afraid he would feel frustration for not eating what he was used to or feeling left out. So I wanted to make sure this wasn’t the case.  

To my surprise he told me that he felt so much better. He said he felt like he could think more clearly and how, when he felt angry, he could actually stop to think when he couldn’t before. 

He also mentioned that his tummy didn’t hurt as much anymore. And then it dawned on me.

I had been giving him Children’s Pepto at least once a week, and I hadn’t  given him any since taking gluten out of his diet.

I was surprised and proud to see how at 7 years old, he had taken this amount of ownership.  When he went to parties or restaurants, he made sure to ask if something was gluten free because he knew it made him feel better to eat this way. And he didn’t have any resentment or hurt feelings for needing to eat differently than others.  He has completely accepted this as a way of life.  And I am so proud of his maturity level in accepting this reality.

But I also had a ton of guilt.  Guilt that I had been giving him this food that was creating bad habits of lashing out.  Because even though going gluten free has helped him immeasurably, he still struggles with how to express himself sometimes, because he was acting a certain way for so long that it just became a habit that we are now trying to help him break.  Guilt that I should have know sooner.  Guilt about feeling like I failed him.  Guilt that I could have saved him from developing some of these habits.  Guilt of not knowing about gluten.  Guilt that something so small affected him so much. And guilt that taking this one thing our of his diet could have saved so much heartache.

But I know that guilt is unwarranted.  Because we do know…NOW! And that is what matters! NOW we can make sure he is eating the right things and staying away from ingredients that will hurt him.  NOW we can help him!

This kid is such a joy and I am so glad we know now and are able to work together to help him be all that he wants to be!

So if you’re finding yourself in this same boat, give it a try! What do you have to lose?  If it doesn’t work, keep looking at different variables. Don’t give up! Don’t feel defeated! And you are NOT a failure!  

As I always say, this child, no matter how hard or overwhelming they are to parent, was given to YOU for a specific reason! You cannot mess them up more than what God can save them from.  

It may take some time and trial and error, but you will find what works for you and for them! And it may be as simple as changing one small and unexpected thing!

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