Donna Fish, author of Take the Fight Out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child’s Eating Problems, clinical social worker and expert on children’s relationship with food, gives it to us straight. Finally we have a resource not just for information, but for practical answers to our specific questions. So please send your questions to: email@example.com.
Now, I am not talking about the food that you are serving here. Too often ignored—when we are so focused on feeding our children well and teaching them good eating habits—are our own food attitudes that we bring to the table. These attitudes are what I call our own “tape loops.” These are based on how we were either brought up around food, and/or how we’ve rejected some of the ways we were raised around said dinner table.
The reason this is so important because it can have a huge impact on “what you serve up” when you are buying, making, and serving food to your child. For example, I had a mom come talk to me and say: “I have an easier time talking to my kid about sex than food,” she explained, when her seven year-old was gaining weight and his doctor told his Mom to help him to watch his weight. She herself, had been raised by what I call an “over-involved” Mom who was always making comments about what, how much, and when she was eating. So that this boy’s mom swore that she would never do the same to her kids.
Now she really didn’t know what to do! Not because she didn’t care, but she had sworn that she would never be in her kids’ faces about their food. It worked with her oldest, relatively thin, easily self-regulating child, but not with her second, who was a foodie, loved the sensory experience, had a big palate, and didn’t like to stop after two even three servings. She ended up being UNDER INVOLVED, which wasn’t helping this kid with some tools, like that he needed to wait a bit longer to let the ‘party die down’ in his mouth and stop telling his brain he needed and wanted “MORE! MORE! MORE”!
Another example: One Mom came to me when her 10 year-old was also gaining weight and her doc said: “Is she getting enough fruits and vegetables? You may want to cut out the sweets.” She almost fell over since all she and her husband eat and have at home are perfectly unprocessed health food with absolutely no sweets or junk. Unbeknownst to her though, her child was eating treats from her friends’ lunch boxes. She too, didn’t know how to handle this behavior with the rules she had about “No junk food.” Both her and her husband’s parents struggled with weight and addiction, so they both decided to be highly athletic and controlled about their food. It worked for them, but these standards weren’t helping their kid with tools to manage the different foods that were part of her daily life outside of her home. I call this category: UNREALISTIC STANDARD!
Lastly, a Dad came to me for help with his child and he turned out to be what I call the OVERLY INVOLVED parent. His kid was a very picky and minimal eater, and he was raised with the old “Starving children in China” routine. He himself had been a small eater, but became a member of the “Clean Plate Club,” and his kid was not buying this idea. It was a battlefield at dinner, and this parent didn’t know how to let his kid eat less than what was served. He worried that if he let him eat the amount he wanted, that he was being too “easy” on him, and that he was being a “loose and lousy” parent, as he put it. One of the dangers here, is that and the you can inadvertently train your child to become a compulsive overeater. You’re basically communicating the message that you know when they’re full, not them. They then lose theirconnection to their body’s signals, either fighting with you, or overly complying; neither one helping them to stay connected to signals from inside their body that they will need in order to manage their food for life.
So ask yourself: What category do you fit in? How are your own tape loops, or eating history impacting your current attitudes and what are you bring to the table? I can promise you, that as much as the food you prepare, this will shape and have a profound effect on your kids and their developing eating habits.
Donna Fish is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Manhattan, where she lives with her husband and three daughters, writes her own blog and blogs for The Huffington Post. With the publication of her book: Take the Fight Out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child’s Eating Problems, she has appeared on and in NPR, Parenting Magazine, Weekend Today Show, Fox News, USA Today and MSNBC and has lectured at Early Childhood Centers of Sarah Lawrence College, Wellesley College, Georgetown University and trained the Head Start Staff of NYC. She lectures to private schools in NYC: Bank street, Village Community School, Dalton, Chapin and more.