Negative words can hurt. They can negatively impact your child’s self-esteem and his view of food and eating.
I have a friend who uses the word “hinder” often. He is from Ireland. When he uses this word, my ears perk up.
Hinder: to delay; to slow down; to impede or impair.
I am sure my children sometimes feel hindered by me, my husband, and our rules. When I tell them they can have one “fun food” per day, they may feel limited by that boundary.
They may interpret this as a major hindrance, especially on those days when there are lots of “fun food” options and they have to pause and think about which “fun food” they want. Or if you have a teenager (or a budding one), it seems like they always feel hindered by their parents, in some way or fashion.
Do we really negatively influence our children? Not purposely, but, in the world of food, nutrition, and children, parents do comment without realizing the impact they are making.
Negative Words Shape Self-Esteem
Unconsciously, we may hurt our children with words, such as those comments we make about food, eating, body weight, shape, or size. Often, kids will internalize these messages.
“If you eat your dinner, you can have dessert.” (Dessert is the most important part of this meal.)
“Be a good boy like your cousin, and eat your vegetables.” (If I eat my vegetables, then I am good. My cousin is good, and I should be good like him.)
“Don’t you think you’ve eaten enough?” (My mom thinks I have eaten too much.)
“Oh, she’s stocky like her Dad” (She thinks I am fat.)
The pressure that parents place on children, particularly if they need to gain weight, lose weight, or change their eating habits, can distract them from developing a healthy body image. Internalized, look how these words could be interpreted very differently than intended:
“If you would just try this new food, your life would be better.” (My Dad doesn’t like me or my life unless I eat the foods he wants me to eat, or the foods he likes to eat.)
“All the other boys are bigger than you, because they focus on nutrition and health.” (The other boys are better, and my Dad is unhappy with the way I look.)
“You’re not active enough–your girlfriend runs track and you should try that too.” (My Mom thinks I make no efforts at being active. My friend is thin and my Mom is not happy with the way that I look.)
What You Can Do Instead
While it’s tempting to comment on your child’s food choices, eating performance and body, it’s best to avoid doing so. Kids can be self-conscious and vulnerable, especially through the middle school and high school years when they are building their body confidence.
Placing your child’s choices, actions or body in question can push a fragile self-worth to a potentially dangerous place.
Negative words can hurt in and of themselves, or through the pressure they put on your child.
You can be more conscious of your language by using a “think before you speak” filter. Be a proactive and positive supporter of your child with regard to food and nutrition and understand your child is learning about these concepts, and himself.
Want more tips and help?
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: August 9, 2017
Updated on: May 10, 2019