Free Newsletters About Parenting!

Enter your Email

Elevated Dopamine Levels In Children

Dopamine creates the switched-on, pumped-up state. Dopamine is good for pleasure and motivation: it's the party animal of the neurochemical world.

Dopamine helps people change moods. It approaches adult levels somewhere between six and nine years, then lowers during the teenage years. This explains why teenagers can be harder to motivate than younger children. There are clear signs that bright kids are down on dopamine.

Elevated Dopamine Levels In Children

Dopamine also plays an important role in shifting and directing attention and concentration. There is evidence that some families may have patterns where they have difficulties with this. In these families, there is a need to increase dopamine levels.

Parents of bright kids may want to increase dopamine. To do so, try some of these ideas:
  • sports that involve repetitive movements such as table tennis, swimming, handball, and marching
  • solving challenges and problems - asking your children to help you out by working out a solution to some family issue
  • social interaction - even the fairly reclusive Passive Resisters will benefit from an increase in dopamine when they get to mix socially 
  • rewards - inducements, bribery, call it what you will, it works! 
  • dietary supplements of tyrosine and Omega 3 and 6, which have also been associated with increases in dopamine. 
Likely signs of low levels of dopamine 
  • Has difficulty getting focused
  • Is unmotivated
  • Is not proud of accomplishments 
  • Is lethargic and tired 
  • Is uninterested and won't try things out 
  • Finds it unsettling or difficult to shift from one activity to another 
Serotonin is the most powerful antidepressant known to humankind, and whether you are a bright kid or her parent, you could do with more of this. While dopamine gives you the pumped-up high, serotonin is the quiet achiever. It is the slow high, and it accompanies calm, considered decision making.
There are clear signs that bright kids may be low on serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are also linked to depression.

Serotonin can be increased by exercise. Whereas activities with repetitive movements particularly increase dopamine, exercise of almost any kind will raise levels of serotonin. Giving positive, warm feedback also increases serotonin, as does giving bright kids some choice, control, and areas of responsibility.
Some bright kids lead very pressured lives where they are required to fit in to someone else's schedule. Have times of the week at home when the pressure is off. When you do as you please at the rate you please, serotonin levels rise. Sleep is a big serotonin builder.
Too much caffeine and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are toxic to serotonin. Try to keep bright kids away from these. If there seems to be a strong pattern of low serotonin, a psychological assessment may be beneficial.

Likely signs of low levels of serotonin 
  • Is sullen and uncommunicative
  • Is hard to get going in the morning
  • Is hard to please
  • Doesn't respond to praise 
  • Everything seems to be a bother 
  • Is sad or depressed 
  • Needs a reason to do things (asks "Why do we have to...?") 
  • Avoids eye contact 
  • Wants to disappear from family activities. 
Parenting strategies likely to increase dopamine
  • Do enjoyable activities.
  • Play challenging games.
  • Focus on what you like and love about your child more than what you don't like. 
  • Use humor. 
  • Plan some positive family goals that everyone can look forward to. 
  • Move your child to a new setting or change what she is doing. 
  • Learn a new skill together. 
Parenting strategies likely to decrease dopamine 
  • Devote some time of each week to organization.
  • Allow "lazy time," i.e., time each week when there is nothing planned and no pressure to do anything.
  • If you are arguing, stop it. Solve it later if you can. 
Parenting strategies likely to increase serotonin 
  • Praise your child.
  • Be affectionate.
  • Create positive time. 
  • Play games and exercises. 
  • Avoid foods and drinks with artificial sweeteners. 
  • Celebrate life and your family. 
  • Make a big thing of positive moments. 
  • Eat breakfast (more protein and less carbohydrate if possible). 
Parenting strategies likely to decrease cortisol 
  • Do more listening and less talking (yes, you!).
  • Play relaxing music.
  • Speak calmly. 
  • Eliminate caffeine from their diet (and lessen it in your own). 
  • Drink more water. 
  • Get enough sleep. 

To find out more, you can check out Elevated Dopamine Levels In Children.