Are hungry hearts listening?


Hungry hearts have no ears.

This was a phrase that Ms. Kennedy, an elementary teacher, used to tell the parents of children in her class about the importance of proper nutrition and having enough to eat. After reading a research project that was conducted at the Anthony Elementary School in Leavenworth, Kansas, this above phrase makes more sense to me.

The study at Anthony Elementary School was a two-year study involving kindergartners through fifth graders. Researchers set out to discover if certain conditions would produce less antisocial behavior at school. If teaching and doing certain things would improve math and English scores on the statewide-standardized test. The list of suggestions can be found in the article referenced above.

It was amazing what happened over the two-year period when these changes were made.

  • Referrals for disciplinary action for out of control behaviors decreased a whopping 95% the second year
  • Out of school suspensions for violent acts fell by 80%
  • Teachers reported much better behavior in classrooms
  • The shift from discipline and classroom management to actual teaching subject matter was reported by classroom teachers

After reading the research listed above Barbara Wright, who is a personal friend of mine and a retired child development specialist said, “I have seen doing all of that in addition to getting them to bed earlier makes a huge difference! Elementary age kids need 10 to 11 hours of sleep a night and most aren’t getting it!”

Take away ideas

I think churches and those who minister to hurting children can find several take aways in the research.

  • Suggest good nutritious foods for children, and even fix bags filled with nutritional meals that can be sent home with hungry children.
  • Several churches now serve a big breakfast full of nutritional value each Sunday morning. Lower aggression in children and better concentration has been reported in children who eat the full breakfast. (I suspect the adults pay better attention in worship also.)
  • Snacks at church can change from all those crackers and goldfish to more nutritious snacks such as fruit or small sandwiches and fruit juice.

A different kind of snacks

In my research to set up snacks in DC4K I came across some valuable information that we incorporated. Any church can adopt these ideas for snack.

  • Children under a lot of stress deplete their system of potassium. Foods rich in potassium are orange juice, bananas and tomato-based products such as salsa.
  • Children who are under stress need copious amounts of plain water to drink.
  • Children who are angry can be served crunchy snacks they can chomp down on such as pretzels. They are also low on calories.
  • Children who can’t concentrate need foods that are high in protein. Protein helps balance blood sugar and it increases focus.
  • Children whose parents are divorcing or going through a crisis may want comfort foods.
    • These include applesauce, mashed potatoes, puddings
    • Or foods that feel warm and comforting in the mouth
    • Foods that remind them of happier family time such as macaroni and cheese may be craved by some children
  • Some children react to sugared foods.
    • Aggression increases for many children when they are eating sugared foods.
  • Children who are stressed, angry or aggressive need foods that raise their levels or serotonin. Serotonin is the brain chemical that produces a feeling of well-being.
    • Carbohydrates such as bread, chocolate and complex carbs like apples and potatoes can temporarily raise serotonin levels.
    • Think serotonin in a stick – French fries or serotonin in the round – pizza.
    • Low levels of serotonin can be caused by dietary deficiencies, anxieties or extreme continued stress.
    • Low levels of serotonin have also been known to cause children to talk louder. Ever wonder why some kids from stressed families shout?
    • Low levels of serotonin are also expected for aggressive and out of control behaviors.

Hungry hearts that have no ears need food so they can know how much you care for them.

Hungry hearts that have no ears need nutritious meals so they can learn about how much God loves them.

Hungry hearts that have no ears need full tummies so the can feel the love of Jesus Christ.

I realize many of you working in children’s ministry and others areas of the church might grab your kid one Sunday and rush them to church without breakfast. This is not what we are talking about. We are suggesting that kids under a lot of stress and trauma, including divorce and switching home before church, are hungry hearts that have no ears.

Note:  Of course, always check for allergies and make compensations for those kids.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on Feb 24, 2015.

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