The single best thing you can do as a parent to help your child build trust in themselves is to repair and promote a healthy relationship with food and eating.
(Okay, this might just be my opinion, but that’s what you get for reading my blog post! ????)
Did that statement scare you? Are you suddenly worrying about how you’ve impacted their relationship with food? And what if you suspect you maybe haven’t always done things just right when it comes to this? Can you ever get a do-over?
I get it.
First of all, let’s do a little grounding here.
You are a great mom. Let me restate that. I believe that if you are a mom, and you’re reading this right now, you are an amazing mom. Moms who aren’t amazing don’t take time to read articles about how to create their own do-over at the dining room table. (But really, even those moms who don’t read articles like this deserve tons of credit they aren’t probably getting, because being a mom can be the hardest thing some of us will ever do and it’s important we build each other up and show each other grace, we might be the only ones who do that for some moms out there.)
Which is the whole point of this series of articles.
Next, let’s assess your belief system. So what do YOU think? Do YOU think you can have a do-over when it comes to your child’s relationship with food?
I believe you can. In this three article series I’m going to help you understand when a do-over is needed, why it’s important to make time for that do-over, and then I’ll share with you my recommendations on HOW you go about it.
First you need to establish if you even NEED that do-over.
Tell me something…do you and your child ever argue over whether or not they’re hungry? Do you ever have stand-offs at the dinner table over finishing their peas or last bites of food? Do you ever withhold the sweets until after your child has eaten enough “healthy” foods?
If you can answer yes to any of these, then it’s fair to say you’re do-over worthy.
Let me explain.
When we as parents do the decision making about what foods go into our kids plates, decide for them how much they need to eat, or dictate when they should be hungry, we are taking away our kids opportunity to trust and rely on themselves to make these decisions. This is removing an opportunity for them to develop autonomy, which is something children both need and desire.
Autonomy is our sense of self government. It’s our ability to be in control of ourselves. Our thoughts, beliefs, and biology (or physical experience) guide our autonomy and so it’s important to be able to tune in to them. In order to tune in to these AND THEN ALSO LISTEN to them, we must have a sense of trust in them. We build trust through actions.
So for example, when our body needs more energy (calories) to do its thing (ie grow or keep us alive), it will adjust hormones and trigger a whole set of activities in motion that essentially end in what we call hunger. Hunger is a physical experience. And it’s not a particularly pleasant experience so it’s natural that we are driven to remove it. We learned how to do this when we were infants and toddlers. When we are an infant, we dealt with the unpleasant experience by crying so our parents would feed us. Viola! Hunger gone and our body and mind were pleased. Your body learned that the process of recognizing the hunger and then doing something to get rid of it (eating) worked to remove the unpleasantness. And so began the trust relationship.
If we as parents remove the opportunity for our kids to act on their hunger with food (and fullness and satisfaction have similar processes), we effectively remove their opportunity to build trust in themselves. Things we as parents do to remove these opportunities include dictating specific meal times and requiring minimal (or maximal) amounts of food be eaten. We determine what foods go on the plate and we restrict some foods (the “junk” foods). These are all examples of ways we remove opportunity for kids to build trust in themselves.
So back to my point of all of this. If you are a mom who has effectively been removing these opportunities for your child to build that self trust and grow that autonomy, then yes, you are a mom who needs and deserves a do-over.