praising a child’s eating

As parents we have a natural desire to encourage our children to eat. From a survival perspective this would have certainly make sense for our ancestors, who couldn’t always be sure where their next meal was coming from, in times when food didn’t keep and leftovers weren’t an option.

In today’s age of plenteous food, however, this is no longer necessary.   In the feeding plan, it’s the child’s decision whether she eats and how much. The child needs to be in tune with how much food is right for her body. Any interference on your part can end up messing with her internal cues for regulating food intake.

Believe it or not, children want to please their parents. It may not always seem this way, but in general they try to do the things that earn them praise and recognition. When they are praised for finishing their plate, they may learn to eat even after they are full. This overrides and sabotages their internal satiety cues. In a day and age where obesity is a significant health concern, this can be setting up your child for a lifetime of poor health.

Note that there is a difference between acknowledging children when they try new foods, and for finishing their food. One is a matter of encouraging the learning process; the other is a matter of how much they eat. Remember, it’s your child’s responsibility to decide how much food to eat.

Instead of saying “good job for finishing your plate,” praise your child’s efforts to respond to their inner cues of hunger and fullness. I like the phrase Maryann Jacobson at recommends using: “You always do a good job when you listen to your tummy.”

I realize that it’s difficult to find the right balance of exactly what to say to your child when he is eating.

On one hand, you want to encourage your child to try new foods. On the other hand, you don’t want to praise your child for eating and create an external motivator for eating.

One last thought: oftentimes, it’s not necessary to say anything at all. Silence is neutral.


Today’s Reflection:

Think of some other phrases that you could say about your child’s eating that are directed at how your child listens to his/her body’s needs instead of how much he/she eats.

Today’s Challenge:

Commit to not making any comments at all about your child’s eating for a whole day. How did the day go? Take some time to journal about what you experienced.

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