With Mother’s Day last month and Father’s Day around the corner, it is a time to celebrate parents. Parents are children’s most important teachers, although I find many parents don’t think of themselves as teachers. Many parents often understand the impact they have on their children theoretically, while still denying their true effect. For those that doubt their influence, let’s look at eating and body image - two areas that I work with regularly and find that the influence is very apparent. It really shows how parents are the most important teacher’s children have.
The bond between parent and child is undeniably important. An infant is dependent on caregivers for every need, including the vital task of feeding. As a child grows from infant to toddler, this relationship changes from solely dependent to curiosity driven independence. Toddlers learn not only by watching what and how a parent eats and drinks, but also takes in their feelings and emotions during these activities. Through these interactions, a child learns about what foods are safe to eat, how and what to feel about eating and food, the cultural importance of food, eating, socialization, and the sense of control which food is one of the first ways toddlers understand they have control and power. All of these thoughts, emotions and beliefs are taught by the caregivers, which is usually parents.
Parents often think that a child is unaware of what is going on, but in reality, they are very perceptive and curious. Some children may voice their curiosity, others may just internalize their learning. Whatever your child’s communication style is, know they are watching and absorbing your feelings and beliefs every day.
From an eating standpoint, what does that mean for parents? It means you need to model what you want your children to embrace and believe. This may include beliefs about what foods should be consumed, how much is acceptable, eating patterns, body image, and feelings revolving food among other things. Don’t you want your children to have a positive association with food? No guilt or shame for wanting a piece of cake or cookie, just pure enjoyment and satisfaction? Not worried about the scale or feeling bad about their bodies because of what they ate or if they exercised or did not that day?
It is possible, and it starts with you, the parent today. You have that amazing power to teach your children. Have fun and happy eating!