Tag Archives: Relationship

Helping Children Develop an Intelligent Relationship With Food

A few weeks ago, as I was leaving my local Post Office, I passed a young mom and her little girl. The little girl, who looked to be about five, was whining about something. The mother said to her, “If you’ll stop crying, I’ll give you a cupcake when we get home.”

On the surface of it, the mother’s remark seemed innocuous enough. And maybe the remark had no connection at all to the fact that both the mom and the little girl were overweight. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder: What was that mom inadvertently teaching her daughter?

Was she teaching her that sweets are a reward for good behavior? Was she teaching her that sweets are a way to assuage difficult emotions? If the child was learning either or both of these messages, she could be in for a lifetime struggle with issues around weight based on a dysfunctional relationship with food.

A new client recently came to my counseling practice about her compulsive overeating. She said she knew exactly how she acquired this behavior (and the girth that went with it). “When my brother and I were children, our parents told us that whoever cleaned their plate first could also eat from the sibling’s plate.” What message did she get about food? Maybe it was, “Eat all you can, as fast as you can, so you can eat some more.”

How many children have been coaxed or coerced to eat more than they want, for reasons that have nothing to do with actually feeling hungry or feeling full? “You can’t leave the table until you’ve eaten everything on your plate.” “You have to eat because somewhere other children are starving.” “Here, have some cookies and you’ll feel better.” “If you don’t eat that, Aunt Jane will think you don’t like her cooking.” Messages like these endow food with illogical meanings.

I’m a life coach and counselor specializing in solution-oriented therapies for habits and stress management. I help clients contending with many types of habits, both behavioral and emotional, and, as you can probably surmise, I have an ample share of clients who struggle with overeating and obesity on a daily basis.

My work has afforded me the opportunity to interview hundreds of clients concerning their eating habits and thoughts about food. It comes as no surprise to me that many overweight individuals maintain a dysfunctional relationship with food, often due to beliefs about food that they developed in childhood.

To have an intelligent relationship with food is to regard food as a source of nutrition and energy. Therefore, hunger or a let down in energy or concentration are signals to eat. People who eat in response to such signals are attuned to their body’s nutritional needs. They select their foods and size their portions accordingly and without much conscious effort. They eat when they feel hungry and stop when they feel full. They automatically balance their calorie intake and energy output to maintain a healthy weight. People who succeed at this are clearly in the minority in America.

People who maintain a dysfunctional relationship with food do not eat according to their body needs or in response to body signals. Instead, they turn to food to soothe troubling emotions- especially foods high in fat, sugar, and starch. They eat for comfort; not for nutritional value. They regard food as a reward for an accomplishment or for getting through a difficulty. Having lost touch with physical feelings that communicate hunger, they eat according to external cues – the time of day, seeing other people eat, the smell of food, an advertisement for food, or a magazine cover picturing a luscious dessert.

Because they are no longer in touch with body feelings that indicate satiety, they have no intuitive gauge as to appropriate portion size. They don’t know when to stop eating, so they overeat, consuming excess calories that get stored as fat.

Such eating habits lead to obesity. These habits are resistant to change because they are associated with comfort, convenience, and relief from stress. They substitute for the hard work of self-awareness and self-discipline, confronting difficult emotions, and developing effective coping skills – the things many people go to therapy to learn.

Granted, there are other factors that contribute to obesity. One factor is a ready abundance of cheap, processed foods high in sugars, starches, and fillers, low in nutritional value. A sedentary lifestyle, genetic issues, certain medications, some illnesses, and poor sleep habits round out the list.

Nevertheless, with childhood obesity more prevalent than at any time in history, parents might consider the messages they give their children about food. Here are three things they would do well to teach, by word, deed, and example:

• Food is for nutrition and energy. Some foods are more nutritious than others.

Parents who teach this will make sure they provide an ample supply of nutritious foods for snacks and meals, exposing their children’s palates to the tastes of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein when their children are young. Sugary and starchy foods should be a rare, special-occasion treat; not a daily staple.

• Eat when you feel hungry. Stop eating when you feel full.

Parents who teach this will give their children child-sized portions and avoid battles over food. If Suzy doesn’t eat, she can leave the table. If she is hungry later, offer a nutritious snack.

• If you feel stressed, let’s talk it over, consider some options, and find a viable solution.

It takes more time and effort to talk things over with an unhappy child than to appease him or her with a treat or a toy. Yet, age-appropriate problem-solving is a skill worth teaching.

Finally, if you have a tendency to overeat, because you eat according to external cues in your immediate environment, or to soothe difficult emotions, or to reward yourself, or because you don’t know when to stop eating, then perhaps it’s time to examine your own beliefs about food and its meanings. You might want to rethink and replace any unintended messages you received about food when you were young. You might then cultivate an intelligent relationship with food.

The Parent-Child Relationship – How to Earn and Keep Your Children’s Trust

Trust is an extremely powerful concept. It takes time to build yet can be broken within seconds. Once broken, it takes far more time to rebuild it than it did to establish it in the first place. An honest relationship with open communication is imperative between parent and child, with the relationship of trust probably being the hardest one to establish. Aside from love, trust is the most important and strongest element you can establish with your children. If they can trust and believe in you, they will model that and become trustworthy. However, if they can’t trust and believe in you, they lose all faith in humanity and grow to have no respect for the bonds of trust.

Before writing this article, I asked my own children, “Do you trust me? I mean, do you really trust me?” What I learned from their answers and reasoning is that what creates trust from a parent’s perspective differs than from a child’s perspective. Parents have a hard time trusting children because of their sometimes dishonest and sneaky nature. However, if children are raised to value honesty, they will talk openly with parents and not feel the need to sneak around or lie. This allows parents to be informed and make informed choices when guiding children along life’s road. But I can guarantee you, if children don’t trust their parents for whatever reason, they will do everything they can to keep mom and dad in the dark. If you want to know what your children are doing, they need to be able to trust you enough to let you in on it. With that in mind, from the perspective of a child (which is the most important one because it is the one we, as parents, are trying to establish), here are the 5 most effective ways for a parent to earn a child’s trust:

1. Keep your word. Keeping your word about everything possible, no matter how small, is imperative. When parents tell a child they are going to do something, they need to make sure to follow through and do it. A pattern of promises kept lets children know that when mom or dad says something, they can take it to the bank. They trust that your word is as good as gold. In our home, we try to abide by the old principle, “Your word is your bond.” If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you say something will happen, it needs to happen. But if you say something will be and repeatedly fail on your promises, your children will quickly learn that they can’t trust a word you say. Broken promises are a good way to lose valuable trust.

2. Be honest. Sure, parents sometimes must tell a little “white lie” to protect their children. But when it comes to important and meaningful questions, the best policy is to be honest, even if you have to sugar-coat it a little. Being honest does two things: It lets the child know that your answers are truthful, allowing them to be able to act upon them with confidence, and it sends the child the message that honesty, no matter how difficult it can sometimes be, is the right thing to do. By believing in honesty by seeing your example, children grow to be honest in return, allowing you to know they are where they say they are and they’re doing what they said they would be doing. Honesty without distorted repercussion establishes a child’s trust that they can talk to parents about anything.

3. Keep your cool. Parents who are approachable about sensitive issues build trust with the child. If a child knows he can come to you and you won’t “flip out” over something that warrants attention, he will trust you to help him come up with solutions and will trust your guidance through the situation. Parents who fly off the handle about issue after issue quickly send the message that they can’t be trusted to hear the child because the child is afraid of yelling, screaming, beating, and punishment. Parents who lose their cool and throw judgment at the child teach the child never to come back with an issue again. When the child can’t trust the parent to listen calmly, they turn to their inexperienced friends instead, and those are the last people you want guiding your child.

4. Be there for them. When kids know that mom and dad will be there for them, supporting them through crisis after crisis, they develop a bond of trust that is critical to open communication. My daughter said, “You were always there for me. Right or wrong, I knew you’d be right there.” By her knowing that I was on her team, even if we did have private conversations pointing out what she did wrong, she trusted that I was reliable. She knew that even when nobody else was there, I was, allowing her to put her full faith and trust in me. And since she trusted me, she shared a lot more with me than other girls did with their parents.

5. Be a role model. Don’t do anything sneaky or wrong that you wouldn’t raise your kids to do. Cheating, stealing, and disrespecting authority are behaviors your child will emulate. When a child hears you talk about trustworthy behavior, then sees you doing things that are completely contradictory to what you preached, they learn that if YOU can’t be trusted to be a good person, it’s okay for them to drop the efforts that establish trust, too. Exemplary behavior teaches lessons and establishes trust in your integrity. Poor, unacceptable behavior teaches a double standard, which is the same as being two-faced, and that’s the best way to lose your integrity and trust from your children.

Children watch how we, as parents, behave. If we keep our word, are honest, remain calm, are steadfast, and are well-behaved as we ask them to be, they learn that we can be trusted under all circumstances. And this level of trust, while hard to establish, is critical in raising children through the confusing years of adolescence. If you lay the groundwork for trust early, keep it strong through adolescence, and continue to respect it into adulthood, your children will never take anything you say or do with a grain of salt. Establish trust and you’re on your way to raising respectful, honest, moral human beings. Fail to be trustworthy and you can bet your children are up to way more than you know. As for me, I’d rather have trust and know what’s going on than be a lying dictator and be left in the dark. Aside from love, which is inherent, trust is the hardest, yet most valuable bond available when guiding children through the smoke and mirrors of life.