6 Ways to Help Your Child Have a Healthy Relationship with Food
As a woman who struggled with an eating disorder my entire young adult life. I feel extremely passionate about raising a generation who will no longer struggle with the body issues that we have so silently suffered through. My heart hurts for the little girl I once was and for the time I wasted being at war with myself. I vowed the cycle ended with me and one by one, family by family the cycle can end.
Here are 6 ways I truly believe we can raise children who not only have a good relationship with food, but also love who they are and the body they have been given...
1. It starts with you:
We all know our children watch us. They see the way we look at ourselves in the mirror, they hear the comments we make. Through observing us, they look at their bodies with the goggles we have made for them with our actions. If you want your children to love their bodies, then love your body. If you want your children to see the best in themselves then find the best in yourself. If you want your children to accept themselves, flaws and all, then you sincerely need to accept yourself. Make a vow to speak only positive things about yourself. If you haven’t always done this, then have an honest conversation with your kids about it, and show them how you can learn to love yourself. It's never too late to set a good example.
2. Watch your words:
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice” — Peggy O’mara
Breath life into your babies, speak about them and to them with kindness. Build them up, see the good, bite your tongue, and become the resting place that every human being needs and deserves. Shame, guilt, insults, blame, and inferiority should not be a part of any relationship, but especially not a part of the parent-child relationship.
3. Surrender to the food battles:
Don’t get in between your child and what goes into her mouth. Trust me, I have a picky eater, I'd be lying if I said this was easy. I have had many days that I've wanted to force my son to eat something, to take 3 more bites, or to just TRY the food I put on his plate. This control serves no one. Your child will have a life-long relationship with food and it's his body, not yours. If you want them to make good choices, only offer good choices.
If you are over the struggle with meal time this is a great and helpful video.
Take a big deep breath and just back off your child. Take all that struggle and chat it out with a close friend so your needs can feel heard and your child doesn’t have to take the brunt of your fear and control.
4. Food does not hold power:
Please please PLEASE do not reward, bribe or punish with food. Food does not have power over people. If you use it for rewards, you link food to being "good" and pleasing to those loved most. If you use it for punishment or bribery, you equate food with negativity, this later grows into emotional eaters (ex: If you don’t eat all your dinner, No dessert for you; If you are not a good boy, then no ice cream for you; Finish everything on your plate, or you're not getting down from the table).
Food is not a tool to use to get somebody to do something that you want them to do. Does this mean treats are bad? Of course not. Treats are yummy and should be enjoyed once in a while, but not because you ate all your dinner or because you were well-behaved. We like to go out for ice cream and everyone gets ice cream regardless of how they behaved. It's about being together as a family and allowing everyone to be a working participate in that without having to "be", "act", or "feel" a certain way.
5. Be intentional:
Make conscious choices about food and explain why you make them. Sharing with your kids the importance of eating healthy is very important, and then living that out daily will help your kids start to internalize it. Involve your kids in grocery shopping and meal making. Talk about the different nutrients and vitamins in food and why our bodies need them. Talk about how different food effects our bodies, what it does to our brain, and how it can effect our mood.
Whenever we are eating something that is not the best for our bodies I always say to my son, "Really listen to your body to know when it's telling you it's had enough" and he has never overindulged in anything, he has always stopped and said "I'm done, my body has had enough." Talk to your kids about listening for when they are full or hungry, and what their bodies are asking for. This creates kids who can make wise decisions about food on their own and who grow up respecting their inner voice.
6. Take care of yourself:
When you love and respect yourself, you take care of yourself. Our children need to see us making good choices for our own body, mind and spirit. This is going to look different for everyone depending on what stage of life they are in, and what being their "best" self looks like. Don’t be afraid to set limits and boundaries around your self care. "Mommy needs 10 minutes to relax and read, let's set the timer and when it goes off we will play."This sets such a great example to our kids so that one day they will know and stick up for the fact that they are worth taking care of.
Nathaniel Branden wrote in his book The Psychology of Self-Esteem: "There is no value judgment more important to man, no factor more decisive in his psychological development and motivation- than the estimate he passes on himself…The nature of his self-evaluation has profound effects on a man’s thinking processes, emotions, desires, values and goals. It's the single most significant key to his behavior."
Let's build up our babies, let's set good examples, so that even when the world tries to paint a picture of who they are or who it thinks they should be they will not be shaken.