GOOD GRIEF…this parenting thing can be daunting! Our fore-parents worried about protecting their kids from starvation, small pox and hungry bears. Today we’re concerned with protecting them from eating disorders, media addiction, weight and body image struggles, to name a few.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring some ways to help our kids (and maybe even ourselves) grow into a healthy, balanced relationship with food and body.
When Bob and I began our parenting adventure back in 1984, our first pediatrician was the remarkable Dr. Denmark, who helped kids and parents grow up until she was 103 years old. She told us something invaluable…
“Don’t make eating, sleeping or toilet training into control issues
between you and your child.
Both of you will lose.”
With this good advice in mind let’s look at how we might best help our children grow into mindful, intuitive, reasonably balanced adults. By the way, if your kids are grown and you wish you had a do-over in the food area, please know that an honest conversation around what you wish you’d known then can open all kinds of wonderful conversation and healing now.
Our goal is to help the kids we love grow up without food and weight becoming a big hairy deal. This can be tough in a culture that is food and weight focused, not to mention perpetually busy and distracting.
FAMILY PATTERNS: We tend to say and do what our parents said and did, even though our food culture has changed dramatically since the Great Depression. We are over-served rather than under-served now. We often order-out rather than hunt and plant. What worked then is not working now.
Let’s look at a few things we can say, or stop saying, that will help:
Stop saying “Clean your plate” or “Just eat 5 more bites”
This causes children to stop listening to their innate hungry and satisfied cues – which are the most accurate indicators of when and how much your child needs to eat. Babies do this perfectly and we do well not to talk them out of it. Also, please don’t mention the starving children around the world – this attaches guilt to eating.
- Start saying things like:
“You’re done? Ok, you can save the rest for later. If you get hungry it’ll be in the frig.”
“You’re done? Ok, time to play!”
“Ok Love. Please take your plate to the kitchen.”
Stop saying things like “Eat your vegetables before you get dessert”
This glorifies dessert. Vegetables seem like something yucky to be endured before the glorious sweet prize.
- Start saying something like:
“I love trying new food – it’s like going on an adventure!”
“What’s your favorite nut/fruit/vegetable right now?”
“When I was your age I didn’t like that either; did you know that our taste buds grow up as we grow up – that’s pretty cool.”
“Hey, did you know these carrots give me supermom powers?”
FOOD-FUN IDEA – Make a SUPER-FOOD POSTER: You and/or your kids can make a poster of Super Foods to hang in the kitchen. Let them add to it as they find out about new super-foods. Talk about the “super powers” these food have and make it a family adventure to try a new one each week. This makes nutrition fun, relaxed and not about being good or bad, right or wrong. Make sure, as you try new foods together, that everyone is safe and free to have their own likes and dislikes.
Stop saying things like “You’re a big eater” (or picky, sloppy, etc.)
It isn’t helpful to label your child’s eating behavior. Remember, we want to help food be a safe subject in our homes. Calling someone a picky eater can have an undertone of shame.
- The less we say – and the more we lead – by being relaxed examples of intuitive, mindful eating ourselves, the better.
Stop calling food “good” or “bad”, fattening or non-fattening.
I know this can be tough if you’re concerned about your child’s weight – but please understand: making food “good” or “bad” leads to unhealthy extremes and disordered eating. We tend to eat all or none of the foods we view in this way, and feel deprived or guilty in the process. We eat none when we’re being “good” and we eat a ton when we’re “bad”. This view of food encourages binge eating, sneaking food, and makes food emotionally charged.
A few statements to try on for size:
These are just starters; you will think of your own…
- I love being with y’all at this table – this is one of my favorite places on the planet!
- Wow, thank you for washing up all our fruit – it looks so pretty in the bowl!
- Hey Gang, let’s make good use of our food budget. Remember to check in and find out how hungry you are before you serve your plate. [Be careful NOT to make them feel they must clean their plate. The goal here is mindfulness – not food monitoring.]
BIG PICTURE: As parents and grandparents we will help our children most by relaxing about food, trusting and honoring our own bodies, having nutritious and delicious foods easily available, ascribing no guilt or shame to eating occasional treats, and by helping our kiddos stay life-focused (children are born this way so we can learn from them on this score) and not become weight or food focused.
Let’s begin to retrain ourselves to think and speak in ways that help us and our families be well fueled for LIFE!
Please let us know your biggest child/food concerns in a comment below and I’ll be sure to touch on them in the weeks ahead…