Mirror, Mirror


As adults, we often are used to doing things that we do not think twice about. How many times have you walked when the red man was showing at the crosswalk because you looked both ways and the road appeared clear? Maybe you were in a hurry, maybe you are just used to crossing the road when the road is clear, not paying attention to the signal.

Others may get on a rental bike without a helmet to bike to the store or the train station. It’s just a short distance and maybe riding on the sidewalk, right?

A parent may eat an extremely restricted diet due to medical conditions or choice. It’s what you want to put in your body, right?

All these situations may seem insignificant to us as adults, but they all can be extremely confusing for children, especially young ones. Why you ask? Because they go against what most parents teach children as safe or good practices.

Studies show that babies learn everything from their parents and they want to be just like their parents, especially their primary care giver. It is everything from safety practices to eating habits. Some speculate that this was due to in the caveman days, this ensured a baby stayed safe. If they mimicked their parents, they would stay out of harm’s way and would eat foods that would be safe for them. Despite no longer needing the knowledge which foods are safe, babies through children still learn their eating habits from their parents.

This is one of the primary reasons why families should eat meals together. The children will see their parents eating different foods which increases their exposure to a variety of foods as well as increases the likelihood they will eventually try the food. Let me repeat that eventually – don’t expect an overnight change, although sometimes children do surprise their parents…

Growing up, my mother did not eat bell pepper/capsicum and was allergic to mushrooms, so it was not until I was in my 20’s that I started eating these foods. It took some concentration to put these foods in my mouth because I was raised that these foods were not okay to eat. How did I learn this message that they were not okay to eat? By not being exposed to these foods and by watching and listening to my mother. They were not foods safe for her to eat, so I learned they were not foods safe to eat for me either.

This is often seen in families where a parent may follow a restricted diet, especially if the rest of the family is required to follow this restricted diet. Depending on how the child feels, they may learn to adopt these behaviours (like in my situation) or some children start rebelling and are uncontrolled around the foods that they feel are restricted (often seen with “forbidden” foods like sweets.) In many of these families, it is common to hear the parents say a child is a “picky” eater (eats a limited diet), not realizing that the child is mirroring what s/he sees the parent do.

Children learn what foods are safe to eat by watching and modelling their parents, especially when they are babies and toddlers. If the menu is limited, the child will learn that only those limited foods are okay to eat. How have you been unconsciously influencing your kids?

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