5 Parenting Mistakes that Hurt Kids Relationship with Food & Body
Your Relationship with Food & Getting Kids to Eat
My most stressful moments, as a mom of three small kids, are around mealtime. I want my kids’ relationship with food to be positive and I want my kids to eat! Mealtime makes bedtime look like a breeze in our family.
I can’t control what happens during meal time, how much my kids eat or if they’ll pick up a carrot and throw it across the table. I CAN control how I respond and how I treat MY relationship with food and body. Those things can get my kids to eat.
Some of my stress comes from my upbringing as a child. Meal times were the worst. They were boring and we had to eat all of our food before we got up from the table.
Some of my stress comes from battling an eating disorder for seven years. I am now hyper aware of diet culture and how commonly diets lead to disordered eating; more than 70 million people worldwide struggle. Unfortunately, parents unknowingly reinforce the diet narrative by talking about their cleanses, losing weight, clean eating or talking negatively about their own body.
Some of my stress comes from the fact that my kids don’t eat the food I prepare. I end up preparing three different meals!
Some of my stress is that my kids hear body shaming language from friends at school. YIKES.
Mistakes Parents Make that Can Hurt Kids Relationship with Food & Body
1) We don’t role model good behavior.
This is our single biggest power as adults. Children see and do what we DO, not what we say.
They see you checking the mirror five times, changing outfits a dozen times. They hear you body shaming or criticizing your looks.
When you talk about dieting or losing weight, kids start to value being “smaller”. They’ll start to equate their weight and looks to their worth. And, if they aren’t in a smaller body, this can lead to confidence and self-esteem struggles.
The solution: Explore your relationship with food and your body.
Use language that is empowering not damaging. If you are dieting, understand what’s behind it. Is it to have more energy? Live a long time? Feel better?
What is your relationship with exercise and your body? It’s not meant to be punishment for what you ate, but rather to move your body because it feels good, gives you energy and a sense of accomplishment.
The more you take dedicated time to move and care for your body, the better you’ll feel and others will see it too.
2) We constantly make comments about how our kids are eating or their appearance.
Can you imagine if, during meal time, you had someone constantly chiming in while you were eating? Slow down, two more bites, finish your plate, eat the veggies first, are you going to finish that, you didn’t eat much, are you full. You get the picture.
We are trying to create a positive relationship with food, not an obsessive one.
The solution: Keep meal time light and fun so that your kids look forward to it. Allow kids to eat while having fun!
Aim for lively conversation, jokes, games, and allow them to join in preparing the meal. Every night during dinner, we say a prayer and I ask my kids two questions:
1) What has been the best part of your day so far?
2) What are you most looking forward to? They expect these and look forward to them.
Of course, there needs to be some structure around meals especially if you have a toddler who, let’s be honest, would eat an entire cake if it was available. Find what works for your family and share meal time expectations at a time when you are NOT eating together.
We get our kids to eat with a simple rule: kids are welcome to have more of anything on their plate and I always put a spoonful of whatever I’m eating on their plates, too. While I can’t control if they try it, I can control their exposure to new foods. I share with my kids that it takes most people five or six tries of the same food before they start to like it.
It’s easy to comment on how your child looks or what they’re wearing. While it’s not bad to compliment in this way, know that you’re child will get begin to get a sense of satisfaction from “looking good” and, in time, they could value this above their own characteristics.
The solution: Be creative. Compliment your children outside of their appearance.
For example, you might say, I like how hard you worked on that project. Or, I love how you get yourself dressed every morning and choose your own outfits. Go beyond the surface and find the characteristics you love about your children. And if you get stuck, check out 10 Compliments your Kids Need to Hear.
3) We don’t eat with our children or practice self-care.
If we TALK about how important it is to nourish our body, but our kids don’t see us doing it, then how could they have a positive relationship with food?
I can’t count how many times my kids have seen me scarf down a bowl of cereal while standing at the counter. Sometimes I even feel proud and say to myself “I’m being a ‘good’ mom by rushing!” I rush so I can get back to all the items on the to-do list. However, I send a clear message that I am not on my priority list. Not only should parents be ON this list, but they should be #1 on that list.
The solution: Eat together! Lead by example and let them see you practice intuitive and conscious eating.
You do this by having more pasta when you’re hungry! Show your kids to eat those greens AND a treat from time to time. They should see you take time to enjoy your food. Let them see you take care of yourself by slowing down.
Don’t sneak treats! Binges are often caused by restricting some part of our diet or cutting out an entire food category. Show them you are human, it’s okay to give into occasional cravings and that you trust your relationship with food.
4) We categorize foods into good vs. bad
Do you ever use language around food implying there is good and bad food? Saying “healthy food versus unhealthy food” can be just as problematic.
When we give kids food with the connotation that it’s unhealthy or bad, they can quickly come to associate themselves with being unhealthy or bad when kids eat that food. They start to feel guilty or even worse, shameful.
The solution: Shift your language around food.
Talk about food from the context of how it makes your body feel.
I tell my children there are two kinds of food. 1) foods that nourish us, give us energy and make us feel good and 2) foods we eat because they taste good and make our soul smile. Both are important! We try to get our kids to eat a variety of foods; any too much of one food won’t make us feel good.
5) We reward kids for “doing a good job” or cleaning their plate.
This habit it hard to break! Rewarding your kids for eating is so natural. For years I said, “I’m happy to give a treat to whoever does a good job on dinner!”
The solution: Don’t reward your kids with a treat for eating.
This goes against intuitive eating. Children won’t focus on their hunger, but instead a dessert. Instead try serving their meal with a treat. Allow your kids to eat it regardless of how they perform. In fact, it’s okay to give your children a treat for NO REASON at all.
Give yourself grace.
Be easy on yourself and find what works for your family. Children are constantly growing – physically and emotionally – their food needs will be different from yours.
Finally, explore and heal your relationship with food and your body. If you find yourself bingeing, eating in times of stress or have negative thoughts about your body or weight, then reach out for a free Food & Wellness consultation or download this free guide to jumpstart your food and body healing.