Updated: Jan 10
5 tips for raising kids that let their body call the shots
Full disclosure, I am a proud pibling/auncle, not a parent. This post is in response to recurring questions about how to help the next generation sidestep the dieting trap.
Pibling; neutral, your parent's sibling. Auncle; queer combo of aunt and uncle.
I’m not pretending to be a parenting expert here but I have worked with hundreds of parents who have shared breakthroughs and hot tips with me as they’ve worked to break free of toxic diet culture and developed tactics to spare their children from struggling through years of body rejection and weight-cycling like they did.
Whether or not you are a parent you likely aspire to be a good ancestor or auncle like myself. These tips are for all adults that want the best for the kids around them.
Encourage them to honor their appetite. Pressuring kids to clear their plates and eat past the point of fullness isn't helping anyone. Yes, it's good to be aware of the value of food. Yes, learning to be grateful for what we have access to is great. Unfortunately eating food we don't need or want anymore doesn't do a damn thing for hungry children elsewhere. The next time you have the urge to tell a child that they should eat things they don't want because other kids are starving, take a pause.
Model self-acceptance and appreciation. Kids today are growing up in a world where their self-esteem is constantly under fire, surrounded by opportunities to compare themselves to curated versions of others. Help your child identify the difference between hyper-edited images and non-airbrushed reality. Avoid negative self-talk or comparison in the company of children. Children internalize what they observe more than what they are occasionally told. Telling your child once a week that they are perfect just as they are won’t erase the message that watching you reject your body multiple times a day sends.
Normalize all aspects of the human body. Think back to what expectations were set for you going into puberty. Were you sent the message that some parts of the body were shameful and turning increasingly gross as you matured? Note and push back when you hear negative talk about menstruating bodies or genitalia (commonly rejected aspects of having a body).
Encourage food exploration and openness. The average child has a very strong sense of smell. This is one of many legitimate reasons why a child might reject unfamiliar vegetables. If cruciferous veggies (think broccoli or cauliflower) smell a little stinky to you they may smell absolutely repulsive to your little one. Explain that taste can change over time and invite your skeptical eater to try previously rejected or new foods without obligating them to finish what they start.
Make mealtime an experience to be savored. In addition to avoiding restriction or pressure at mealtime, create a calm eating environment where kids can comfortably use mealtime to fill their social and nutrition needs. Keep distractions to a minimum. Cue the child to notice details about what they are eating by asking them to tell you how they are enjoying their food and what they notice about it. Describe what you enjoy about food and model that eating is a joyful process to be fully experienced in a mindful way.