It’s the holiday season, which means a lot of talk about food! This can often lead to more “food noise” around parents and their children. In this week’s episode, we are discussing our own food noise as parents and how our self-body image can directly impact our tube-fed kids. In today’s society, adults are often having conversations about the way we see ourselves, our bodies, and how we relate to food. What a lot of adults don’t realize, is that these conversations are typically overheard by our most vulnerable children and eaters.
When there is negative talk that is “diet-focused” or culturally-focused rather than talk around self-regulation or pleasure, children can get very confused. This relates to all children, but specifically those who are tube-fed or who already have a complicated relationship with eating. At first, this may not seem like a big deal, but it has a subtle impact on how children learn to listen to their own body. Children who are tube fed are already trying to figure out their relationship with food and how to food can be trusted. Jennifer and Heidi are going to sort through the common pitfalls that we see in both parents and society related to negative food noise. They will also discuss strategies that you can do instead during this holiday season!
Common Pitfalls that we see:
Children learn so much from listening to their parents indirectly by observing how their parents learn and feel about things. In all settings, children learn from observations and indirect modeling, especially when related to mealtimes and trust around food. Some adults can have complicated relationships with their own bodies due to their own history or challenge with eating in their past. In today’s society especially, it is hard to stay away from all of the body talk or body shaming, especially around the holidays. It is this time of year where the focus should be even more on sending positive and neutral messages about food to their children.
In the weeks leading up to the holidays, it is common to hear parents or caregivers say things such as how they are going to “overeat” or “pay for that at the gym” or “not going to fit into their clothes”. As adults, this feels easy to say because we all have our own complicated relationship with food due to our past or history with eating. For a child, the message they receive for hearing adults talk about their pants not fitting because of a certain food is a scary message. Children are very concrete and often have trouble understanding what adults “mean” by a certain saying, which does not help in this environment. Those type of discussions around children can be very confusing.
This can be especially confusing to children who are tube dependent or having trouble understanding the feeling of hunger and what those feelings mean. When those children hear these confusing messages, they are looking for clues on how their body is impacted. Although during the holidays we may feel shameful about a part of our body or feel “guilt” after eating something, this is a cycle that should be stopped around your children. This is a lot of information that makes it very difficult for children to understand food.
Put yourself in your child’s shoes and think “How might my child be perceiving this?” For example, when a child hears “I need to get these cookies out of this house!”, how do you think they understand it? They may hear that and think that the cookies are scary or another food that they should not “trust”. None of these messages are going to help, but they also make the mountain for learning to eat SO much higher to climb.
So what can we do instead?
These comments are bound to happen, but take the time to focus on things you can say that would help build a positive relationship for your child. This may mean using phrases such as “I’m enjoying this, but my tummy is full so I’m going to put some aside later”. This could be a good time to tell a funny or positive story about the last time you ate chocolate chip cookies, or even a story about baking them with family members. The majority of what children are learning are not what about their kids are saying, but what they are doing. Try to notice how your child may be responding once the holidays hit.
A previous blog post around Thanksgiving Time focused on tips for talking to relatives and managing holiday mealtimes. Any holiday gathering in which somebody is exposed to negative messaging around foods can be stressful. So how can we deal with family members who may be having a lot of “food talk”?
- Change the subject is a great way to change the conversation to something positive
- Talking to family members ahead of time and let them know what your focus is around the holidays and what your goal is for your child during the holidays
- Be careful of the use “healthy” when talking about foods because this is an overloaded word that may make kids feel like they can’t eat foods that aren’t labeled “healthy”
Be careful about the messaging we are letting our children see and make sure not to talk about dieting too much. It is also important to not talk about our bodies in a negative way. When we can change the discussion, try to use the tips above to naturally shift the conversation. It’s okay to remind yourselves that conversations can be tricky around food, so having conversations about experiences, colors, or textures can help shift away from the “food” talk. Talk about your days, your plans, and have conversations that are not all about food. Holiday mealtimes are meant to be a social time for families where you can talk about your days, plans, and have other conversations catching up with family!
This is not an easy fix that does not happen overnight, but if we can work towards acknowledging this and taking baby steps, that is what is most important!