Words can hurt. They can hinder your child’s self-esteem and 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 feel hindered by me, my husband, and our rules. Like when I tell them they can have one “fun food” per day. They interpret this as a major hindrance, especially on those days when there are lots of “fun food” options when 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 hinder our children? Not purposely, but, in the world of food, nutrition, and children, parents do hinder and don’t realize they are doing it.
Here are some examples:
Unconsciously, we may hinder our children with words. Words can hurt, such as those comments we make about food, eating, body weight, shape, or size. Often, kids will take on these messages, and internalize them.
- “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 hinder them. Internalized, look how these words can hurt and could speak 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.)
Words can hurt in and of themselves or by the pressure they put on our child. Words and comments can set up a perpetual cycle of disappointment, low self-worth, and sabotage any efforts a child is attempting at a healthier lifestyle.
Parents can be more conscious of their language, by using a “think before you speak” approach. Be a proactive and positive supporter of your child with regard to food and nutrition: feed with an authoritative parenting style and lead by example.