DISCLAIMER: Parenting an obese child is a touchy subject, but the dangers of choosing to ignore the issue are far greater than the risk of causing offence. Let’s open up the conversation so that we can open up new opportunities to improve the lives of the next generation.
In Australia, 1 in 4 children are overweight or obese. It’s an alarming figure, but it begs the question:
Have we as a society become desensitised to the excess fat in our kids?
Is overweight becoming the new ‘average’, and must we now redefine current measures of ‘health’?
If a parent takes the same measures to ensure that their child:
- Is vaccinated and immunised
- Receives the proper medication when they are sick
- Is fed, bathed, and cared for
- Is taught about discipline and manners
- Goes to school
Then it makes sense that a parent also takes into account that the food they feed their child will:
- Support their development
- Be nutritionally sound
- Reduce the risk of ‘un-health’ (disease and illness, and also maladaptive psychological, emotional and physical behaviours).
As straightforward as it may sound, unfortunately, it’s just not as easy as “knowing what to feed your child”.
A lot of the behaviours parents adopt now, are learnt from their own experiences of being children to their parents all those years ago.
Young children model their parents eating behaviours - less out of choice (surprisingly), and more because it is what is given to them (a child’s well being is heavily reliant on his or her parents after all). The problem lies when kids are fed highly addictive substances - as found in processed and refined foods (sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine after all…).
Marketing strategies used by food corporations also play a heavy role in influencing eating behaviours. But if we look at the eating patterns of our grandparents and generations before them... How did they get by without the labels telling them how healthy a food item was?
Feeding your child is no easy task - but the same logic goes for raising a child in general.
It’s time more parents put their hand up and ask for help. It’s time for greater attention to focus on educating parents on how to preserve and promote their child’s health when it comes to eating habits and lifestyle behaviours. This includes promoting physical activity and reducing the time spent in front of electronic devices (but that’s for another blog post…).
So where to from here? What are some practical tips for parents to start doing to buffer the effects of the modern lifestyle?
Set better boundaries.
Teaching your children discipline is important to let them know who is in charge. Kids will always test your boundaries - in fact, it’s their job! But informing them about the consequences of their poor behaviour will teach them there is always a choice - even when emotions are at play.
If you’re planning a grocery trip with your child, explain to them the new rules - that you’re sticking to your shopping list and won’t be buying their favourite junk food ‘treats’. Telling your child in advance will mentally prepare them for the new routine.
If they do throw a tantrum while you’re in aisle 8, do not reward their behaviour by letting them have what they want. Explain to your child that you will continue shopping and that they will be given a time out when you return home.
It may take a while for your child to adjust to the new routine - but persistence will pay off. As your child’s behaviour improves on future shopping trips - reward them with verbal affirmations to show them that they should continue with the good behaviour because it makes them (and you) feel good!
Don’t use food as a reward.
If you want to commend your child for their good behaviour, try these things instead:
- Offer them praise and encouragement: “you did so well today, I’m so proud of you!”, “thank you for being well behaved”, “you’re getting so much better at X”
- Give them affection - hugs, kisses, a pat on the back and even tickles - that will get the endorphins going!
- Ask your child what activity they want to do with you - and do it with them! Children respond well to parents who show an interest in what they are interested in. Learn to bond better with your child
Get them to help with food prep
Even young children can help with meals - they just need clear and proper directions (and supervision). If they are too young to handle food, ask them to help with setting the table - even if it’s just their own plastic plate and cutlery.
Kids who are a bit older (primary school) can help with basic tasks, such as mixing all the ingredients together, stirring and even taste testing! By making the process family-oriented, it encourages bonding.
You will be teaching your kids skills that they will want to share with their own kids too!
Setting the right attitudes and behaviours around food in the family home will not only improve the health of your child, it will also teach them adaptive behaviours that they will take into adulthood.
Help guide them to make better choices today, so that they can live a healthier and happier life in the future.