Feed Brains for Happier Children

By Deborah McNelis, MS.ed. Founder, Brain Insights, LLC and author of The Brain Development Series, the Love Your Baby App, Naturally Developing Young Brains, and the Redleaf Press brain series for early childhood educators.

Want a happy, smart and healthy child? It really isn’t difficult to achieve. Feeding the hungers of the brain contributes greatly to well adjusted and thriving children. When provided with what the brain needs, children are likely to be more content and are eager to move, play and learn.


Asian Family Lifestyle

Food plays a vital role in how children’s brains function, how they feel, and how they behave. Understanding how hunger affects the brain can provide a wealth of insights for you.

Hunger is stress. Lack of food causes stress in the brain due to the lack of nutrients it needs. This causes stress hormones to be released resulting in a possible lack of attention, behavior problems, and the brain generally not functioning at optimal levels.

However, good nutrition can lead to increased serotonin (feel good chemical) levels in the brain and happier children spending more time playing and learning. Nutrition is often only thought of in relation to the body. But, what is good for the body is also good for the brain.

Making sure your child has enough time for a good breakfast can make a remarkable difference. Ensuring each breakfast includes adequate amounts of protein will contribute to a more content child with a better functioning brain. A healthy and relaxed breakfast can also reduce cravings for “junk food” throughout the day.

With a very busy schedule or a disrupted routine it is easy for the behavior of children (and adults) to be easily affected by hunger. Providing simple carbohydrate foods in an attempt to combat hunger will result in a child feeling (and behaving) even worse. Sugary foods (or beverages) eaten on an empty stomach instead of healthy foods will result in a crabby and possibly hyperactive child only 30 minutes later. Again, this occurs due to the brain not getting the nutrients it needs.

Young children’s brains are not developed enough to handle all they are feeling. Controlling the agitation, lack of focus and anxiety a child feels as a result of lack of nutrients (or other hungers below) is too difficult for a still maturing brain. This is why it is called, “out of control” behavior. Your understanding of this is invaluable to a child.

Additional Hungers

It is also helpful to realize that the brain also has hungers for structure, recognition, and stimulation.


Children prefer the structure and routine that feels comforting and calming when they can anticipate what is going to be happening in their lives. When the brain feels the security of predictability this leads to increased cooperation. A familiar routine decreases anxiety and stress for both adults and children.


A child wants your attention and recognition. Attention helps a child know they are valued and important. Children ideally want recognition for positive behaviors. However, if good behavior doesn’t get attention, a child will resort to negative behaviors to get the need met. It is easy to have your attention focused on many other things throughout a busy day. But, if you take the time to recognize your child’s need for some of your attention, things are likely to go much smoother and will likely lead to the child feeling secure enough to play independently for longer periods.


The brain likes stimulation. It is curious and likes novelty. Lack of stimulation feels like stress to the brain. When adults have to wait for an appointment or are standing in line, etc. we find something to read or something to do. Children’s brains do the same thing. A child will create an incident to stimulate their brain. This is likely to include the need to have physical activity. Even daydreaming is a stimulating activity in the brain. Some adult focused activities during the day may not be stimulating to a child’s brain. Keeping this in mind and allowing for and building in child focused activities will keep a child behaving in more positive ways.

Using this valuable information will lead to strengthening the highest functioning areas of the brain that enhance a child’s ability to self regulate. Ultimately, feeding all of the hungers of the brain will contribute to more loving, caring, sharing, fun, laughter, hugs and smiles together.

For additional brain stimulating activity ideas for busy everyday life, or the beautiful, Loving a Baby Print, go to www.braininsightsonline.com and for further insights go to: Early Childhood Brain Insights Blog or get the Love Your Baby App.

Deborah McNelis, MS.ed

Deborah McNelis

As an Early Brain Development Specialist and founder of Brain Insights,LLC, Deborah is the award winning author of, The Brain Development Series. The series has sold worldwide and is available in English and Spanish. She has been seen in several publications, heard on numerous radio shows, and receives rave reviews for her enlightening and engaging presentations. Deborah is overjoyed with the response to all that the company provides due to her inspiring desire to create awareness of the critical importance of the early years.

In addition to the brain series, she has also contributed to several books, collaborated to create Naturally Developing Young Brains, and the Redleaf Press Brain Development Series for early childhood educators. Deborah has additionally created the Love Your Baby App, the valuable Creating Great Connections newsletter, the Early Childhood Brain Insights blog and the NEW Loving a Baby print.

Deborah’s goal through her passionate work is for EVERYONE to gain an understanding of early brain development, it’s impact, and the ways we can all easily make a REAL difference for ALL children.

Connect with Deborah
Email / Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest