top of page

Addictive behaviour in children

Our children are growing up in a ‘candy shop’ environment, an environment that is full of triggers for a child predisposed to addictive tendencies. This particular child has to try and navigate a land of digital and chemical temptations without the years of trial and error, without the self-help books/ articles or well-intentioned mentors, and without a developed pre-frontal cortex to help with their executive functioning.

Now what can we do as parents to help them find their stability. We are here to assume our fundamental role of teaching our kids to develop a healthy relationship with the world they live in. Additionally, we have the unique opportunity to help make their story on of happiness, balance, enjoyment and success.

The problem

Children today have to deal with the unlimited availability of instant gratification. Whether this is food , where according to this study, 76% of children eat out at a fast food outlet or restaurant at least once a week or technology. Our television, social media and video games are on demand in our instant satisfaction society. This environment is challenging for any child (and adult) however for those with addictive personalities, it is nigh on impossible.

There are several significant personality factors that can contribute to addiction:

1. A high value on nonconformity combined with a weak commitment to the goals for achievement valued by society

2. Impulsive behaviour, difficulty in delaying gratification, an antisocial personality and a disposition toward sensation seeking.

3. A sense of social alienation and a general tolerance for deviance.

4. A sense of heightened stress. This may help explain why adolescence and other stressful transition periods are often associated with the most severe drug and alcohol problems.

How can this manifest?

Perhaps it started when they were younger. That one TV show was never enough. Should you offer a single treat, it was never enough.

At this age it sounds normal however the frequency and scale of the tantrums may have been a concern.

As the child gets older and develops various techniques, we see a movement towards more discrete addictive behaviour. Now they hide under the covers after lights out to play a bit more on their iPad or craftily sneaking across to a friend’s house to watch more television. Or becoming more masterful at hiding junk food in their rooms or back packs. You start notice that their mood plummets after screen time and there is a constant battle to turn it off. There is now an increase in impulsive and oppositional behaviour that is starting to be problematic at home and school.

Their behaviour is not all bad, they are still the wonderfully funny, kind, loyal and competitive child they have always been, there are just times when a cloud seems to come over them.


1. As I have mentioned in previous posts, it is always a good idea to consult your GP. Have them get a full blood work up and assess if there are any deficiencies or high levels of the following: Folate, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Iron, Magnesium Serum, Copper, Whole Blood Histamine, Homocysteine, Plasma, Zinc, Urine Pyrroles, Serum Ceruloplasmin, and Thyroid Panel. These tests can catch imbalances that may cause behavioural issues. A way to think of it is, that the addiction is not the problem but it is the solution to the problem. By way of example, if a child or adult has lowered dopamine levels for whatever reason, a way to boost these levels is often temporarily achieved by a behaviour that provides instant gratification. This can be in the form of gaming, substances like food, or later, drugs. The cycle of addiction begins when a person does not have a better way of alleviating this imbalance. This could also explain why some people develop an addiction and others do not.

2. Author Jessica Lahey in The Gift of Failure says it best, “any strategy that undermines autonomy is probably not going to work if long-term learning is the goal… Knowing how to manage risk through experience is real, hard-earned competence, and it makes them <kids> feel great about themselves.” Now this is difficult for most of us! It is hard to let go of the rules (protections) that we have put in place to keep out temptations. We tend to heavily police snack foods and have zero screen time during school week. By doing this we take away the possibility of failure instead of working on the long-term goal of creating a good relationship between our children and ourselves.

3. Remember we are asking our children to make decisions against their biochemical desire to receive that extra dopamine boost. It is incredibly hard to stop ourselves from correcting ALL the mistakes our children make in the hope that we can prevent them from making them again. However, if instead of focussing on the mistakes that our children will make, we need to focus on celebrating all the successes no matter how small. All hail that one piece of carrot that was chosen during dinner this evening!

4. And lastly, don’t be afraid to share your own imperfections. We are role models to our kids; they learn more from watching our failure (and how we deal with them) than our successes. It is from us that they learn coping mechanisms and it is from us that they learn it is ok to fail. Failure is an opportunity to learn and do better – share the actions that make you stronger.

Start the conversation today with your child. Talk about ways to manage the challenges and discover new ways to help your child write a beautiful life story.

If you need to chat, then reach out and book a free consult to see the steps we can take to build that strong foundation.

23 views0 comments


bottom of page