Whether direct or indirect, the messages we choose to communicate shape the way our children think about food and their bodies. Here’s what to be mindful of.
We have all grown up learning about the power of words and the potential impact our conversations can have on others. Perhaps this becomes even more real when you have kids. You realize that the messages you’re communicating, both verbally and non-verbally, have a tremendous impact on how your children experience the world around them.
This especially holds true in the way we communicate as parents on the topics of food and body, and how it impacts how our children eat and view their bodies.
When it comes to how your child eats, do you find yourself making comments about their food choices or how they are eating? What does your language about food communicate to your children? As parents, we are constantly bombarded with negative messages about food, dieting, and our bodies.
Unknowingly, these messages can permeate how we think and talk about food, even influencing how we converse around and with our kids.
It is important to understand that whether we realize it or not, we are sending messages to our children about food and their bodies, directly or indirectly. As children are shaping and forming their opinions from the people they are surrounded by, it is helpful to examine what messages you may be sending your own child, both verbally and non-verbally.
- Your child is having a hard time eating dinner and is especially avoiding vegetables. You coerce them to eat and tell them they cannot leave the table until they take at least two bites of veggies. You may even bribe or threaten them with dessert, telling them they cannot have any ice cream unless they eat their vegetables.
- Your child loves to eat and regularly enjoys the meals that you cook. At the last doctor’s visit, the pediatrician mentioned tactics on “preventing childhood obesity”, and you have started to worry about your child’s weight. Your child happily helps herself to a second serving of the main course, but not without you giving them, “the look”.
- You are going out to eat as a family, and your child may select an item that is high in fat and sugar. You consider this an “unhealthy” choice and ask, “Are you sure you really want that?”
- You are worried that your child may be eating excess calories, so you keep certain foods or snacks out of sight or reach.You might impose arbitrary limits, such as certain portion sizes your child is allowed to eat or number of helpings
- You might describe food in “black and white” terms, such as noting to your child that fruits and vegetables are “better” for them and should be chosen over “unhealthy” or “bad” foods, like desserts or sweets.
- You may overly praise your child for cleaning their plate or eating all of their vegetables, telling them how “good” they are for doing so.
Be mindful of these situations, which can communicate negative messages about food and your child’s overall eating competence.
If in reflecting on your own mealtime messages, you have found yourself falling into some of these scenarios, the most important thing you can do as a parent is give yourself an abundance of grace.
Remember, we parent from a place of good intentions, and especially when it comes to our children, we only want what’s best for them and hope to raise healthy, competent eaters. Realize that you are not a bad parent if you struggle with meal time battles and let go of any parental guilt that you might be experiencing if you feel like eating patterns in your household are in disarray.
Guilt, shame, and regret will only hold you back.
The best thing you can do is honestly reflect on your own experiences and learn what you would like to do differently to create positive changes. This involves examining your own beliefs about food and your body. How we communicate with our children and the messages we share about food and our body often stem from deep beliefs we house within ourselves.
Are you comfortable in your own body? Do you worry about your weight, food choices, or engage in dieting? If so, this may manifest in the way that you converse about food to your children, both in conversation and in body language.
Another practical way to nurture healthy eaters in your family is by keeping mealtimes as neutral as possible.
This means to proactively take a neutral stance toward food, and center meal times around family fellowship and topics of conversation that build relationships. This will ultimately help your child develop a healthy relationship with food by:
- Helping them feel good about eating
- Encouraging them to feel relaxed about eating all kinds of foods
- Managing how much they need to eat without worrying whether it is too much or too little
- Avoiding restricting and/or overeating
This will also help take away any unnecessary pressure you may be experiencing as you learn to trust your child’s ability to eat the amount they need to grow appropriately, and regulate their intake.
By recognizing all that you’re doing as an amazing parent, you can bring joy back to mealtimes.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: BERNARD GABRIEL
Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones. Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.