Most of us can remember times when we got a great report card or cleaned our rooms without being told because we knew there was a chocolate chip cookie in there somewhere for us – or when that same cookie was offered to us to make us “feel better” when we fell off our bike or the other kids weren’t “nice” to us.
I certainly can. When my mother broke out the ice cream either to “celebrate” something I’d done well or ease either the physical or emotional pain I might be feeling at a given time – boy did I feel loved!
On the other hand, some of the most painful and damaging experiences I had as a child was being signaled out as “different” – which, for a child, is synonymous with “not as good”. I can remember reaching for another serving of whatever to be told by one parent that “I didn’t need that” – which usually resulted in some sort of disagreement between my parents – AND in front of my sisters and brothers – about how to deal with the fact that I was fat. The shame and embarrassment was unbearable.
As an overweight child this kind of behavior on the part of my parents and others was extremely confusing. Sometimes I “got yelled at” for eating and other times I was rewarded or received attention via food.
When we use food as a reward for good behavior or a means to calm or make our children feel better about themselves or their situation, we are teaching them to associate food with being able to alter their mood or how they feel about themselves – making it easy for food to become their drug of choice.
I learned later how much easier it was for me to control what I ate when I served my own family off of individual plates versus self-serve bowls and platters on the dining table. I plated up my healthy portions and knew when I was “done”. I wish I had learned this before I’d become a parent – but, once I learned it, this is how I fed my children.
I also learned that including a couple of planned and portioned snacks during the day helped to ward off the “sneak” and “binge” eating episodes that I’d learned to engage in as a kid. Being told I “didn’t need” or “shouldn’t” have a snack – again within earshot of others – taught me not to ask for food and instead eat in secret – as much as I could as fast as I could so I wouldn’t get caught.
It is an ongoing process, but I continue to learn to this day how to meet my emotional needs and alter my mood via activities other than eating – for me being active (a walk, a bike ride), making art, talking to people willing to listen and not judge me have helped take the place (most often) of a bowl full (or carton) of ice cream.
Unfortunately these are things I had to discover and teach myself after an extremely painful overweight childhood that resulted in my becoming a morbidly obese adult.
We as parents can teach healthy eating habits to our children by “doing it for them” as well as “doing the same for ourselves” – when we do that we are creating the habitual behaviors that will allow them to attain and sustain a life-long healthy weight.
DON’T give your child food as a reward for “good behavior”.
DON’T give your child food in an attempt to “make them feel better”.
DON’T signal your overweight child out from their healthy weight siblings or friends at meal and snack times.
DO educate yourself about healthy portion sizes for children and serve meals and snacks “restaurant” versus “family” style.