Kids Out of Balance

Author // Jennifer Barham-Floreani, B.App.Clin.Sci, B.Chiropractic

Today’s parents are special. We have to be—we are raising children in a very different world. As my mother likes to remind me, “Things aren’t the way they used to be.” She’s right. Look around: They aren’t.

Food is injected and sprayed (funnily, so are many of our celebrity idols!). Water is laden with chemicals, as are many of the products we use, from deodorants and shampoos to furniture and paint. There are many stressors accompanying our modern lifestyle, and parents are right to be alarmed because children are particularly vulnerable to them. From conception onward, these stressors have a compound effect. The result may be a child who is immune-challenged, who struggles to learn, to interrelate, and to be truly healthy.

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If you feel overwhelmed by the effort needed to keep abreast of these health threats, the good news is that it is now easier than ever to access up-to-date information and tools to strengthen your family’s health. By understanding and reducing stressors, you can help your child avoid illness, alleviate symptoms, and encourage optimal body functioning for all of life’s stages. An informed parent is an empowered parent, so here are some ideas to help you ensure a greater quality of life for your family.

“The man who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow is uneducated the day after.” —NEWTON D. BAKER

What Does It Mean to Be Truly Healthy?

Before we explore ways that we can keep our kids in balance we need to consider what it means to be truly healthy and “in balance.” Many of us are socialized into not considering our health until symptoms appear. We believe, “If I feel well, I must be healthy; if I feel sick, I must be unwell.” We lead such demanding lives that when a headache, cold or backache arises we opt for the quickest and easiest remedy: drugs. While there is always a place for drugs and surgery, our “there’s a pill for every ill” mantra doesn’t address why we are experiencing the symptoms in the first place.

Ask yourself: If a person in pain takes a pill and the pain then goes away, does this mean he or she is healthy again? Of course not. Symptoms are a message from our body that there is a problem and that change is needed. A true indicator of health is when the body is able to effectively adapt to the stressors placed on it.

So many children today are super-sized, chronically unwell, depressed or unable to concentrate. Indeed, our youth are not coping with the stressors of the modern world. It’s important we explore ways to help them be healthier, more resilient and empowered for a brighter future.

This begins with asking good questions. As a parent, we can usually sense when something is not quite right with our child. If this is your hunch, then it’s important you ask: Why is my child chronically unwell? Why is he constipated? or Why can’t she concentrate?

We can look to nature for inspiration. Take a moment to imagine the approach biologists might take if a certain region of a rainforest died. Would they simply remove the dead trees and replant vegetation? Or would they investigate what had caused the destruction? If all the fish in a particular lake were found to be dying or have deformities, would biologists and wildlife experts simply prescribe medication for the fish? No, that would be illogical. They would examine what caused the imbalance in the environment. They would look at the ecosystem and consider all the factors that sickened the fish, and then set about eradicating these factors and implementing strategies to recreate homeostasis or balance.

Now imagine a child who behaves aggressively. How would health experts tackle this problem? Is it logical to offer him medication for behavioral issues, or do we serve this child better by investigating the foods he is eating and his hydration levels, considering whether he is over-stimulated by electronic gadgets and computers, and assessing his nervous system and communication between the gut and the brain?

The human body is remarkable, and when it is functioning and coordinating itself well it has the capacity to heal and regenerate. If we can teach our children that health comes from within and that their bodies have tremendous intelligence and capacity to ward off illness, then early warning signs like a runny nose or a sore throat will not be seen as a signal to take antibiotics, but rather as an indication that they need to slow down, get lots of rest and boost their immunity with natural foods. Drugs are not always the answer. There are safe and effective approaches and holistic health practitioners who can empower us to navigate our family’s health outcomes.

“Our chief want in life is somebody who can make us do what we can.” —RALPH WALDO EMERSON

Signs of a Body out of Balance

As parents it is important that we observe our children to see that they are integrating their world in an ageappropriate manner. An imbalance can be indicated in a variety of ways. A baby, for example, may cry or fuss during feeding and arch her back. Her head may be an uneven shape, or she might not like lying on her tummy. Becoming familiar with the expected developmental milestones will help you assess whether your baby or child’s behavior is problematic or not. (For further information, please refer to my book Ticklish: New Ways to Help Your Child Learn, Love & Play at

For older children, some warning signs of a body out of balance may be:

  • Slow recovery from minor illnesses, and recurring colds, flus and allergies

  • Poor balance and coordination

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Agitation, anxiety

  • Oversensitivity to environmental noises

  • Eczema, pale skin, discoloration under their eyes

  • A bloated tummy, constipation

  • Hyperactivity

  • Defiant or angry behavior

  • Consistently low mood, lack of enthusiasm for life

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Fatigue upon waking, general sluggishness

What Moves a Body out of Balance?

Think of your brain as a computer and the nervous system as its hard drive. Your brain coordinates, via your nervous system, every function in your body including breathing, digestion, thought processes, and healing. Nerve messages (in the hard drive) can become impaired or blocked by spinal or vertebral subluxations which occur when there are misalignments of one or more bones of the spine. This results in altered joint motion and nerve irritation, which lessens nerve communication, organ function and general health. The longer the subluxation exists, and the more severe it is, the more profoundly “disorganized” the body becomes.

There are many physical, chemical and emotional triggers that may impact the nerve communication of the body and move a child’s body out of balance. Fortunately, there are also many ways we can combat the impact.

Trauma: Physical Stressors

I recently watched a heart-warming TED talk in which the speaker, Shawn Anchor, recounted a personal childhood story. At the age of 7, when entrusted to play “nicely” with his 4-year-old sister (he suggested playing “combat”), she fell off the top bunk bed and plummeted to the floor on all fours. As the shock set in on her little face and the tears welled up, young Shawn racked his 7-year-old brain to save the day and said, “Amy, Amy, wait don’t cry! Did you see how you landed? No human lands on all fours like that! Amy… I think this means you are a unicorn.”

This story is a reminder of just how common knocks and falls are in childhood. It is estimated that by age 3, a child will have had three major falls—for example, off changing tables, out of a cot, or down a flight of stairs. Many infants land on their head multiple times during their first year; by the age of 7, a child may have fallen thousands of times.

The “bounce-back” resilience exhibited by children typically hides subtle damage that leads to poor postural and neurological function over time. Like the adage, “As the branch bends, so grows the tree,” each seemingly insignificant slip and fall adds up.

Physical stressors may impact the body even before birth. If a pregnant mother’s pelvis is uneven, this impacts the position of the womb and ultimately a growing baby’s ability to move freely within the uterus. Movement within the womb is vitally important as it stimulates the development of the brain, as well as the nervous and vestibular systems. In fact, the primitive brain requires movement in the womb to develop fully and a lack of mobility and in-utero constraint may be one contributing factor for a child experiencing learning difficulties.

Subluxations of the mother’s pelvis may arise from car accidents, falls or poor posture. Chiropractic adjustments during pregnancy help mothers feel more comfortable and mobile and encourage babies to move freely in the womb. Adjustments also encourage more straightforward births due to better alignment of the pelvis, abdominal muscles, and ligaments that hold the uterus and cervix in place. (For more information, please see Well Adjusted Babies, at

The birth process and medicalized births may also create tension within the baby’s spine, the skull and nervous system. Contributing factors include false labor, a long or very short labor, failure of the mother’s cervix to dilate, the use of drugs to increase contraction intensity, the use of vacuum extraction or forceps, caesarean section delivery, and the cord around the baby’s neck. Sometimes even straightforward vaginal births can create subluxations if the baby is unable to move into the ideal birth position and reduce stress on the spine.

This is why chiropractors recommend parents have their baby’s spine checked post-birth. When the nervous system is not functioning well it has the potential to affect the communication channels of the body and may impact all aspects of health, including neurological development, respiratory function and the baby’s capacity to sleep, breastfeed and digest milk. Chiropractors use specific techniques with children and tailor adjustments to the infant’s size and age.

Another physical stressor to consider is posture. Poor posture influences our nervous system significantly, adversely affecting our well-being, overall mood and ability to concentrate or work.

There is no doubt that children today need to be technologically skilled and that there are benefits to the appropriate use of electronic equipment. However, repetitive or prolonged postures while watching television and playing computer games can impact a developing spine. Furthermore, most children neglect to strengthen certain muscles as they grow and develop. It is important to stimulate the extensor muscles on the back side of the body, since they neurologically fire straight to the cerebellum and improve the way the brain works. Therefore, when young children have poor posture they may be at greater risk of poor neuromotor development. It is vitally important that children be physically active, engaging in sports and activities that strengthen their bodies, such as trampoline, gymnastics and swimming.


1. Find a wellness chiropractor. Chiropractors can assess how your child’s spine and nervous system is adapting to the lifestyle stressors placed upon it, including the impact of birth, knocks and falls, and poor posture. Regular chiropractic adjustments help to support optimal growth and nerve function.

Toxins: Chemical Stressors

Over the last few decades we have learned a great deal about how health is taxed by environmental chemicals. We now know that unborn babies and breastfed children are exposed to toxins that a mother inhales, ingests, or that pass through her skin. It was once thought that the placenta shielded the fetus from these toxins, but in fact the umbilical cord carries not only the building blocks of life but also a steady stream of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides that cross the placenta just as readily as residues from cigarettes and alcohol.

It is estimated that approximately 70 percent of our immune cells reside in our colon. Our modern lifestyle compromises our digestive strength every day—poor dietary habits, antibiotics, dehydration and environmental toxins destroy the important flora (“good bacteria”) of the bowel, affecting our digestive capacity and impacting our immune system. Chemical stress may result from chlorine and fluoride found in water and the many toxins found in food, including pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, colorings, additives, hormones, damaged fats and high levels of sugar.

When these toxins accumulate, the core energy of the body is weakened. Sadly, millions of children suffer with eczema, asthma, allergies, sleep problems and behavioral difficulties, to name but a few of the repercussions.


2. Eat well. Buy high-quality organic fruits and vegetables. If you are unable to purchase organic produce, then buy a fruit and vegetable wash which helps to remove pesticides. Explore the Environmental Working Group’s website (; it is a not-for-profit environmental research organization that has developed a pesticide guide for fruits and vegetables.

Meryl Streep once said, “It’s bizarre that the produce manager is more important to my children’s health than the pediatrician.” Indeed, the pesticides, heavy metals, herbicides and fumigants used on generic produce have all been linked to abnormalities in behavior, perception, cognition and motor ability during early childhood, even when exposure is at so-called harmless levels.

3. Drink well. One of the simplest and most important things you can do is invest in a water filter to protect your family against chemically-treated water. Most of our drinking water today contains chlorine and chlorination by-products, as well as numerous other contaminants. Drinking uncontaminated water promotes detoxification, enhances nutritional uptake, and ensures optimal hydration. Help your children develop the habit of drinking water throughout the day rather than juices and soft drinks. A mere 2 percent drop in our body’s water supply can trigger signs of dehydration: fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math and difficulty focusing on smaller print, such as on a computer screen. Many children are frequently dehydrated, suffering with concentration issues, constipation and digestive problems.

4. Use probiotics. High-quality probiotics can provide the necessary bacteria for a healthy gut, and they are an essential aid to digestive health for all children. I would recommend taking probiotic supplements daily.

5. Visit your allied health practitioners. For children to enjoy long-standing digestive health, it is imperative to ensure that their bowels are receiving effective messages from the central nervous system. Chiropractic adjustments aim to remove nerve dysfunction, allowing the body the opportunity to restore balance and rebuild bowel and immune-system strength. I would also recommend utilizing the expertise of Chinese Medicine practitioners and homeopaths to assist with health challenges.

6. Audit your household. Take an audit of the number of processed foods in your pantry, fridge and your children’s lunch boxes. Consider how many prescriptions your child has had in the last 12 months or over their lifetime. Investigate the ingredients in your personal care products. By taking stock of where you are starting from, you’ll be able to celebrate how far you’ve come when you invest in your health and create health rituals that pay dividends for a lifetime. There are now many valuable websites and books that can show you how to reduce the risks in your own home.

Thoughts: Mental Stressors

Children are not immune to stress. Epigenetics and other areas of research show us that emotional stress affects human beings at all stages of life, including in utero, creating changes at a cellular level that can be detrimental to a child’s future health.

One of the causes of emotional stress is a hostile or uneasy environment at home or school. If a child feels her safety or the safety of either parent is threatened, physiological responses arise which can result in anxiety, personality issues or health complaints.

Chronic emotional stress in turn creates digestive stress, altering the body’s fine acid/alkaline balance. These deleterious effects are exacerbated by short, rapid breathing patterns known to accompany stress, increasing the body’s acidity woes. When the bowel is acidic, our digestive strength weakens.

Poor sleep habits can also contribute to unnecessary stress in the household. If a child does not wake up easily and with energy each morning, this could indicate he is not getting enough quality sleep. As a parent you might need to pick your battles, but ensuring your children get enough sleep is a battle you should be determined to win every time, because children cannot concentrate, learn tasks, or play sports well when their bodies are chronically tired. When tired, children will also crave sugary foods that leave them prone to yeast imbalances.


7. Limit the late nights. It is a good idea to limit the number of late nights that children have in a week. With social, school and family activities, bedtimes can gradually become later and later for older children, but sleep requirements remain just as vital for teenagers as when they are younger. It turns out that teenagers may actually need more sleep than they did in their younger years.

8. Send them to bed early. Try getting your children to bed an hour earlier for a period of time and watch how this can transform grumpy or emotional behavior.

9. Implement a set routine. Having a set routine for dinner and bedtime makes life easier for everyone, as it gives the body and mind cues to slow down, relax and prepare for sleep.

10. Encourage exercise. Children sometimes resist sleep because they are not doing enough physical exercise during the day. Encourage children to exercise frequently. Families can create regular rituals in and around exercise, such as going cycling together, playing in the garden, or learning a sport.

11. Spend time together. Limit television and electronic time and spend more time together as a family, relaxing and connecting, free of agendas.

12. Learn new skills. Parenting is hard. However, there are many tools and skills you can learn to make life easier. Decrease the stress in your household by committing to learning new, proactive parenting skills each year. This can keep you inspired and inventive when challenges arise.

Admittedly, I have spent many anxious moments contemplating the tremendous job of parenting. I love Emerson’s quote about how we need someone to make us do what we can. It reminds me that while it feels like hard work to create positive lifestyle changes for our children, the good news is there is so much that we can do to protect our children’s health and nurture their minds and bodies. It is never too late to influence the health of the little people in our lives; it just takes courage, commitment and learning to trust your intuition. Together there is much to learn and explore.

Pathways Issue 42 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #42.

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