Author: Melissa Peterson, freelance writer
Tantrums and meltdowns are all very normal for a young growing child. However, when meltdowns turn into aggression, or tantrums happen daily , then nutritional and herbal support together with behaviour management may be helpful. These may help the child cope with daily stress, ease emotional tension, learn essential social skills and provide some much needed peace.
Research supports the link between nutritional status and healthy childhood behaviour. Particular nutrients that have been associated with healthy childhood behaviour include: vitamin D, B vitamins (especially B12), iron, magnesium and zinc.1,2,3 These are all required to help support healthy nervous system function and healthy mood regulation.4
Vitamins and minerals
Magnesium is used in over 300 reactions in the body, and is important for healthy nerve conduction, muscle activity, protein synthesis, DNA synthesis and immune function.5 Sufficient magnesium is important to help maintain levels of serotonin, the mood regulating hormone.6
Zinc is another important mineral. It is necessary for many systems, including the brain, immune and gut. An adequate zinc status helps the body to respond well to daily stress.1,7
B vitamins may help relieve tiredness and fatigue when dietary intake is inadequate as they are involved in cellular energy production. B vitamins are also used in important biochemical pathways including the production of critical brain neurotransmitters (chemicals which nerves use to communicate with each other) necessary for healthy behaviour regulation.4
Other critical nutrients, needed for the structure and function of growing brains, are long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (for example those found in fish or krill oil). One study showed a group of children were less aggressive immediately after taking omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins, while another found children aged 8-16 years had significant and sustained improvements in behaviour after taking omega-3 supplementation alone.3,8 Simply including two fish meals per week in the child’s diet, making sure at least one is a fatty fish, may help reduce normal negative emotional and behavioural issues.9
Supporting nutritional status through diet, and supplementation where it is not possible through diet alone, may assist healthy brain function, behaviour and coping skills in children.4 However, some children may require additional support to help keep them calm.
As well as supporting appropriate behaviour through nutrition, there are some other methods you can try to encourage good behaviour in children:
- sleep – all parents know that improved sleep means better behaviour throughout the day!
- positive reinforcement – be sure to praise your child when you see them behaving in a way you like
- be a positive role model – make sure you are behaving the way you want your child to behave, for example if you don’t wish your child to raise their voice, speak in a calm, quiet voice yourself
- keep promises – both good and bad! If you’ve told them they can’t have an outing until they clean their room, don’t give in and take them anyway
- keep things simple – give instructions which are clear and easy to follow
- pick your battles – if you engage in all of your child's behaviour, it may lessen the effect of you saying ‘no’ when it’s really important. Choose which behaviours are most important to you to correct, and think about letting some minor things slide10
Vitamin and mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
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- Villagomez A, Ramtekkar U. Iron, magnesium, vitamin D, and zinc deficiencies in children presenting with symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Children 2014;1(3):261-279.
- Bala KA, Dog?an M, Kaba S, et al. Hormone disorder and vitamin deficiency in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab 2016;29(9):1077-1082.
- Raine A, Cheney RA, Ho R, et al. Nutritional supplementation to reduce child aggression: a randomized, stratified, single-blind, factorial trial. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2016;57(9):1038-1046.
- Parletta N, Milte CM, Meyer BJ. Nutritional modulation of cognitive function and mental health. J Nutr Biochem 2013;24(5):725-743.
- Braun L, Cohen M. Herbs and natural supplements, 3rd edition, 2010. Churchill Livingstone Elsevier: Sydney.
- University of Maryland Medical Center. Magnesium, 2015. Viewed 14 February 2017, http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/magnesium
- Vela G, Stark P, Socha M, et al. Zinc in gut-brain interaction in autism and neurological disorders. Neural Plast 2015;2015:972791.
- Raine A, Portnoy J, Liu J, et al. Reduction in behavior problems with omega-3 supplementation in children aged 8-16 years: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, stratified, parallel-group trial. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2015;56(5):509-520.
- Gispert-Llaurado M, Perez-Garcia M, Escribano J, et al. Fish consumption in mid-childhood and its relationship to neuropsychological outcomes measured in 7-9 year old children using a NUTRIMENTHE neuropsychological battery. Clin Nutr 2016;35(6):1301-1307.
- Raising Children Network. Encouraging good behaviour: 15 tips, 2016. Viewed 14 February 2017, http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/encouraging_good_behaviour.html