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Posts Tagged ‘parental behavior’


Children mimic your behaviors!

Contrary to popular belief, children hear what you say and see what you do.  Your behaviors and comments can leave a lasting impression.  Even your body image or weight concerns can be passed on to your kids.  Evidence shows that stressing thinness and weight control promotes eating disorders, low self-esteem, decreased body image, and weight bias in children.  Furthermore, eating behaviors linked to a higher risk for obesity are known to develop very early in life.  A 2001 study showed family food environments and attitudes around food and eating affect even preschool-aged kids’ eating behaviors.  You may think youngsters don’t pick up on your drastic dieting or negative comments you make about your body like older children, but they do!

Several studies show that restrictive feeding can impair a child’s ability to regulate their intake, resulting in overeating and weight gain.  Worrying about your own weight can influence your feeding style.  For example, forbidding high calorie foods or sweets in your home can result in your child sneaking food or feeling deprived and overeating when given the opportunity.  Overly controlling or eliminating fun foods simply doesn’t work with kids – balance is key.

Have you ever found yourself saying out loud:

“I have got to lose weight, I am getting so fat”

“I am going to be good and skip lunch today”

“No more desserts for me, I don’t deserve it”

If so, you may want to censor your comments and think before you speak.   Remember, your words could promote your child’s weight gain!

As a parent, you can model  “good for you” behaviors without fixating on weight.  There’s nothing wrong with guiding your child towards adopting healthy habits that will benefit him or her – that’s part of your role!

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to promote a healthy weight for yourself while empowering your child.

DO:

  • Be physically active and limit your own sedentary activities
  • Aim to eat when feeling physically hungry
  • Have a neutral view about all foods
  • Stock a range of nutritious foods in your home and choose these options more often
  • Offer balanced family meals as much as you can
  • Choose to talk about yourself and others with respect and appreciation

DON’T:

  • Get caught up in the latest fad diet or encourage your child to diet
  • Skip meals
  • Eliminate all sweets or high calorie foods from your home
  • Use food for rewards or punishments for yourself or for others
  • Eat while standing up or distracted (may lead to eating mindlessly)
  • Emphasize effects of unhealthy eating
  • Focus on anyone’s weight, especially yours or your child’s

Bottom line:  You are your child’s biggest role model – do you want your child viewing and treating their body the way you do?

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

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Did you know that child development influences how well your child eats? Picky eating, copying friends, independence, and risky behaviors are all normal behaviors during the course of childhood. Yes, NORMAL behaviors. Children move through these predictable and often frustrating phases as they grow into adulthood.

Yet, many parents find themselves embattled and struggling with their child, particularly with feeding and eating.

Messy eating is a normal part of child development

Why the Struggle and Strife?

Parents are missing out on information about typical childhood development. Not only are they missing this information, child development hasn’t been tied to eating behaviors or highlighted as a driving force behind eating. But child development is an important piece to the puzzle of feeding kids and kids’ eating.

Parents Need to Know What is on the Road Ahead.

And that’s what this series is all about: helping you get a handle on what to expect during each of your child’s developmental phases and most importantly, how it effects your child’s eating, the way you feed him, and his overall well-being.

In this series I will present each stage of child development, starting with infancy, moving through toddlerhood and school-age, and ending with adolescence.  I will move sequentially through the stages, helping you understand how each developmental stage builds upon the next. And I will show you the ties that bind development and eating so that you can figure out the mysteries behind food preferences, desires and behaviors.

School-age children are ready to learn skills in the kitchen

Why Am I Convinced this is Need-to-Know Information for Parents?

Knowledge provides insight. Knowing what to expect and what is normal during each development stage will help you respond to your child in a positive and healthy manner. For example, when you know a tornado is coming, you prepare your home, take cover and weather the storm in a relatively relaxed manner. This knowledge allows you to respond appropriately– this bodes true for feeding your child through the expected storms of childhood development, as well.

Knowledge provides opportunity. Knowing what to expect lets you grasp opportunities to teach and promote your child’s skills. Knowing where your child sits along the spectrum of development will help you decide when it is best to begin and advance cooking skils, how and what to teach about nutrition and allow for independent food choices. And it will also help you be realistic–if you expect your preschooler to bake a cake, you may be frustrated and disappointed. Likewise, if you hold back the school-age child who wants to bake, he may be frustrated with you!

Knowledge minimizes negative interactions. Sometimes, parents and children do struggle. In this series, I will also give you some pearls of wisdom for how to interact with your child in a developmentally-sensitive manner. All in the hopes of equipping you with foresight and knowledge so that you can remain level-headed and calm, and frustration can be minimized for all.

We all know what happens when you’re not prepared or don’t have a sense of what is normal…you may panic!  And panic can lead to rash decisions, knee-jerk reactions and negative interactions with your child. We want to keep things positive, especially around food and eating.

Navigate Nutrition Successfully.

This requires knowing your child’s development and how it is affecting their eating. While some of these normal developmental stages will still feel frustrating at times, it’s how you respond and handle them which is your barometer for success.

I hope you will feel equipped with your new knowledge: able to recognize that some behaviors are simply normal, handle the difficult ones with positivity… and be ready for the next barrage of behaviors.

Stay tuned for the first part of the series: Your Child’s Development: Infancy!

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This is the last installment of our eating disorder series by guest blogger, Katherine Fowler, and we are ending with prevention.  Next week we will feature a post on the question many parents get asked, but don’t know how to answer.  Join us for an expert perspective on how to handle the tough question–Do You Think I’m Fat?  For now, read on for what you can do to keep your child in a healthy state of mind and body.

Part 2 of this series discussed the warning signs of eating disorders and what to do if you witness them.  This segment will focus on primary prevention, or what you as a parent can do to stop the occurrence of eating disorders before they begin.

Studies have shown that eating disorders do run in families.  Even if you do everything you can to control your child’s environment, he or she still has a chance of developing an eating disorder. So what is a parent to do? It’s impossible to control all the influences outside of your door, but your actions can have an impact.

DO:

  • Encourage positive body image.  Be a model of healthy self-esteem.
  • Become a critical viewer of the media.
  • Choose to talk about yourself with respect and appreciation.
  • Choose to tell your child you love him/her for what is inside, not because of how he/she looks.
  • Have a neutral view about all foods.
  • Allow your child to determine when he/she is full.
  • Emphasize positive aspects of healthy eating rather than effects of unhealthy eating.

DON’T:

  • Make negative comments about your own or others’ weight.
  • Label foods as “good” and “bad”.
  • Use food for rewards or punishments.
  • Follow fad diets or encourage your child to diet.
  • Focus on the calorie content and grams of fat or sugar in foods.
  • Restrict sweets and high calorie foods from your child.
  • Make your child clean their plate if they are full.

There are 3 major things you need to remember:

  1. What you say sticks. You definitely don’t want your comments about food, eating, body weight, shape, or size to affect your child’s self-esteem.
  2. Your feeding style is important.  An authoritative feeding/parenting style is associated with preventing childhood obesity and eating disorders and has a “love with limits” approach.  What type of feeder are you, and is it having a positive or negative impact on your child?
  3. Family meals matter.  Regular family meals are associated with preventing disordered eating and promote healthier body weight, less behavioral problems, and better grades in school.

To reap the benefits of family meals:

  • Make mealtime peaceful. Save arguments, TV, and phone calls for another time.
  • Make mealtime fun! Involve kids in planning meals, shopping, and cooking.
  • Offer balanced meals. To create balance, serve nutrient dense foods like lean meat, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in larger quantities and serve less nutrient dense foods like high fat dairy and processed grains in smaller amounts. Offer fried foods and sweets less often.

You have a number of chances to interact with your child each day.  Each is an opportunity for you to promote a confident eater that has a healthy relationship with food.  You can make a difference!

Contributing Author: Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

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I am not  a fan of diets.  They don’t work.  Especially with kids.

Many adults argue that a calorie-restricted diet is just the nudge they need to launch their new eating habits and the resulting weight loss they desire. But for kids, restrictive approaches to weight management just don’t seem to work well. Maybe it’s the aspect of hunger, or the emotional responses that erupt, the growth influence, or just human nature that complicates weight loss for kids.  I suspect many adults would agree that some of these obstacles exist for them when using restriction as a diet attitude.  Maybe that’s why ‘diets’ aren’t working in a lasting way for adults.

We know that there are significant risks associated with dieting in teens, such as increased eating disorders and disordered eating, continued weight gain despite efforts at weight loss, and lowered self-esteem.  Diets dish up a mind-set of  “I can’t have this…”.  Human nature shows us that when we cannot have something we want, we want it even more…in the case of dieting and children, you can see where this path leads to: overeating. Having worked with many children and teens who need and begin the path to a healthier weight, I know first-hand how difficult and frustrating the process can be. And how much time it can take.

But I am here to tell you, be patient, healthy weight loss takes time. Especially for kids.

As we all get ready to begin the year 2011, I have compiled an analogy to describe the process and patience required for you and your child as you better your eating habits and your lifestyle.  It’s the Garden-Planting Analogy. I won’t get into the details of foods, portions, exercise, TV/screen time here, because you can find that in my Why Weight? blog series from last year, and the Family Pocket Guide that resulted from the blog.

Real change takes time. Whether it’s starting a new exercise routine, trying to be a better mom or dad, or getting to church regularly, making real change in your life requires a commitment to practice new behaviors every day. This is true for new health behaviors as well.  So how is planting a garden similar to waiting for weight loss? Let’s take a look, step by step:

The Garden-Planting Analogy

STEP 1: Prepare the soil Just like you prepare the ground to plant your crops, your child’s body must prepare for weight loss. This means getting rid of excess nutrients (like calories, sugar, and fat) and including nutrients that are missing from their diet.  Start a movement program that your child (and family) can stick with.

STEP 2: Plant the seeds Seeds are the nuggets of information from which change can root and thrive. Educate your child with credible nutrition advice that includes what to eat, hunger management, and fun, healthy activity. Educate yourself with how to feed your child, using positive attitudes and actions that include role modeling, daily movement, and meal routines that support healthy eating.

STEP 3: Water regularly Crops die without regular water and nutrients.  So will your efforts at weight loss if you don’t pay attention to your healthy behaviors every day. Practice good nutrition, adequate sleep and physical activity daily.

STEP 4: Wait for the roots to take hold Herein lies the frustration.  We want to plant the seeds and see an immediate garden.  But you and I know, an abundant garden requires daily care.  This same nurturing and care-taking is needed for child weight loss too.  It takes time for nutrition education and daily health practices to synchronize and internalize. Practice your health management techniques everyday, and wait.

STEP 5: Watch the plants bloom and grow Before you know it, a plant sprouts and takes hold.  The same will happen with your family efforts for better health. Soon, kids will be sleeping better, be more active, and eat healthier. And the scale will begin to move (or stay the same, depending on the weight goals for your child).  But even better than that, your family will have practiced and adopted skills and health behaviors that can last a lifetime!

A cup of  “Good things come to those who wait” blended with a pound of  “Practice makes perfect” and you’ll have a recipe with the right attitude, level of commitment, and patience to see your child (and your whole family) succeed with weight loss.

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I have a friend who uses the word “hinder” often.  He is from Ireland.  When he uses this word, my ears perk up.

Hinder.  Not a word you hear used frequently in the English language.  Hinder :  to delay; to slow down; to impede or impair.

I am sure my children feel hindered by me, my husband, or our rules. Like when I tell them they can have one “fun food” per day.  They interpret this as a major hindrance, especially on those days when there are lots of “fun food” options, which are times when they have to pause and think about which “fun food” they want.  Or if you have a teenager (or a budding one), it seems like they always feel hindered by their parents, in some way or fashion.

Do we really hinder our children?  Not purposely, but, in the world of food, nutrition, and children, parents do hinder and don’t realize they are doing it.  Here are some examples:

Unconsciously, we may hinder our children with the verbal comments we make about food, eating, body weight, shape, or size.  Often, kids will take on these messages, and internalize them.

  • “If you eat your dinner, you can have dessert.”   (Dessert is the most important part of this meal.)
  • “Be a good boy like your cousin, and eat your vegetables.”     (If I eat my vegetables, then I am good.  My cousin is good, and I should be good like him.)
  • “Don’t you think you’ve eaten enough?”    (My mom thinks I have eaten too much.)
  • “Oh, she’s stocky like her Dad”    (She thinks I am fat.)

The pressure that parents place on children, particularly if they need to gain weight, lose weight, or change their eating habits, can hinder them.  Internalized, look how these words could speak very differently than intended:

  • “If you would just try this new food, your life would be better.”   (My Dad doesn’t like me or my life unless I eat the foods he wants me to eat, or the foods he likes to eat.)
  • “All the other boys are bigger than you, because they focus on nutrition and health.”   (The other boys are better, and my Dad is unhappy with the way I look.)
  • “You’re not active enough–your girlfriend runs track and you should try that too.”   (My Mom thinks I make no efforts at being active.  My friend is thin and my Mom is not happy with the way that I look.)

This language and pressure can set up a perpetual cycle of disappointment, low self-worth, and ultimately sabotage any efforts a child is attempting at a healthier lifestyle. Parents can be more conscious of their language, by using a “think before you speak” approach.   Be a proactive and positive supporter of your child with regard to food and nutrition:  feed with an authoritative parenting style and lead by example.

Hinder not…or you, the parent, become a hindrance.

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We are all role models to children.  Parents, especially, are under the watchful eye of their child.  How you behave, what you choose, your habits—both good and bad, influence a child each day.  And how you manage your body—what you eat, when and how much you eat, your activity level or lack thereof, all register with children and can set the foundation for a future of healthy eating and an active lifestyle, or not.

Parents have the unique responsibility of being the primary role model for their child when it comes to food and eating behaviors.  By the time a child is twelve years old, they will model many parental behaviors in this area.  So, if you are a meal skipper, chances are your child may be too.  If you diet off and on, so may your child grow up and do the same.  If you refuse certain foods or eliminate them from your diet, your child may adopt these practices also.  If you spend a lot of time watching television, don’t be surprised if your child comes home and plops in front of the TV, Nintendo DS, or laptop. 

It can be overwhelming to realize your child is looking at your behavior every day!  Here are some concepts to keep in mind as you consider your model behavior:

Trust your child to honor their hunger and fullness and eat the right amounts for their body.  Trust your child’s inner intuition about eating.  Trust that you can learn from your child’s natural self-regulation.  This foundation of trust will serve you and your child through the ups and downs of growth, body development, and eating in the future.

Predictability is the key to a happy child.  Set up a framework for meals and snacks—time them at regular intervals to avoid over-hunger.  Structure your meals to have most of the food groups represented, most of the time.  Offering fruit at every meal is a great way to ensure healthy eating and build predictability in mealtimes.  Predictability builds security—food security.  A child who is secure with food and eating tends to have fewer problems with weight and eating later in life.

Choose food for health.  Focus on foods that are rich in nutrients, fiber, and taste.  Choose more whole, natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains.  Consider processed foods, food colorings and dyes, caffeine, and sugar substitutes as the “occasional food”, rather than a staple in your family’s diet.  If the drive through is a common stop on your way home, envision another way to bring convenience and efficiency to your eating—try a crock-pot,  a pressure cooker, or homemade frozen entrees instead.

Expose your child to a variety of foods.  Ensure that new foods accompany familiar foods.  Try ethnic varieties, exotic fruits, seasonal vegetables, and flavorful condiments.  Try different forms of familiar foods—instead of French fries, try roasted potatoes.  Instead of applesauce, try baked apples.  Don’t rule out a food because you think your child won’t like it—and don’t paint a grim face if you do offer it—stay neutral and trust your child to let you know their impression.

Adventure in eating is fun for kids. Show your sense of eating adventure by having a “new menu item” night during the week.  An openness to “try anything” also shows adventure in eating—let your child see the adventurous eater in you!

Move your body—daily.  If you want your child to be active, you need to be active too.  Show your enjoyment and enthusiasm for exercise!

Share your food.  This is a safe way for your young child to try new food items and a way to build trust and security with food and eating.  Sharing food sends the very basic and important message of generosity.

Communicate early and often with your child about food, eating, nutrients, health, and physical activity.  Promoting open and honest communication about nutrition will set a foundation of trust, health education, and realism in the world of food and eating.  Remember, children are curious and will ask the questions—let them know early on that you are their resource for reliable information.

Manners are important and beginning early with the basic “please and thank you” is a great place to start.  Make sure you “please” and “thank” your child early on—and you will be pleasantly surprised when you hear it stated, unsolicited from their mouths.  Practice common table manners—it pays off before you know it.

Role Modeling is not a choice for a parent—it comes with the territory.  Choosing to be a great role model with food and eating will reap lifetime rewards in your child’s food choices, eating behaviors, exercise patterns, and overall health.  Remember, your child is watching your every move.  Your moves don’t have to be perfect—just thoughtful and intended toward a healthful and active child.

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