Change is scary. Imagine how much harder it is to make a change if you do not fully understand the benefit behind making the change? This is exactly where kids often find themselves, as it relates to making dietary modifications. They are surrounded by people discussing how they need to make a change, but often do not understand the reason. Another common occurrence is that they may feel like they are the only one in the house making the healthy change--this is even more confusing for a young child. If it is a healthy change, then should this be the case? Are words being spoken in the house that are implying they are the only one that has work to do? I think a fellow dietitian described it best when she put it like this “we are all working towards the same goal, but we are just taking different steps to get there”. That should ultimately be the truth in every household.
All too often I have parents come in with the best of intentions saying that they want to make sure that they get their kid on the right track with eating. While this interest may be due to their own convictions or even due to a healthcare professional expressing concern, it is important that they are not made to feel as if they are being placed on a “diet”. It is hard to understand that seeing a dietitian does not mean being placed on a strict diet. Despite what many may say, the dietitian has no desire to be deemed the “food police”, honestly---we hate that you feel that way. No, seeing a dietitian means having someone meet you where you are and cheering you on while walking the journey with you. This same structure should be occurring inside the home, as well. We cannot rightfully suggest that kids have a healthy eating pattern, but not set the example for them. Time after time I have seen progress be hindered due to kids feeling as if they are being put on a diet. I can practically see the parent’s skin crawl when Little Johnny says “mom eats (fill in the blank)”. Honestly, chances are that your dietitian sitting across the table from you also eats that! So, sit back and take a deep breath as we discuss the importance of everyone in the house moving in the right direction together.
Let’s take a moment and talk about the division of responsibility. If you have been to Lemond Nutrition and have a toddler or “picky eater”, this topic was likely discussed. The basic idea is that parents provide the what and when and the child decides how much they will consume. So, what I am saying here is that as a parent, you have to take responsibility and ensure that you are offering healthy items and that healthy items are available in the household. If your pantry is packed full of snacks that don’t offer much nutritional benefit, can you really be upset when you see them reaching for that snack? Even at a young age, it can be beneficial to start working towards teaching them the difference between those “sometimes” food items and those “all the time” food items. Please take note that I did not say “bad” versus “good”. The phrase “all things fit in moderation” is a good phrase to adopt.
Below are a few key tips to help you get started with increasing the motivation level in your household.
-Help your child identify the “why” behind the change. If they understand why this change is a good move, then they will be more likely to find value in their efforts.
-Help your child set realistic goals. While having a great imagination is a wonderful thing, it can also be a barrier to success or leave the child feeling defeated if the goal that is set is unattainable. Help them learn to celebrate those small victories---they will add up in the end!
-Have an open line of communication with your child. Talk to them about what their goals are. Ask them if they understand the work that must be done in order to achieve that goal.
-Offer to help them achieve their goal. Maybe you are working on portion control with your child—offer to help them measure out appropriate portions of their favorite snack. This is a great opportunity to let them lead the effort, but also remind them that you are on their side!
-Set the example. I am not saying anything that you have not already heard before, but let’s face it---this is not always an easy task. There is no “perfect” and progress looks different for everyone---that’s okay!
-Focus on healthy/fit living versus diet-minded thinking. When we think of attaining a healthier lifestyle as being “on a diet”, we are really underplaying the benefit that will come from having a more balanced diet.
-Lose the “good” food versus “bad” food mentality. Yes, some foods are packed with great nutrients and others offer less nutrients. Now that we know this, let’s use it to our advantage and work on limiting those “sometimes” foods that aren’t providing our bodies with the most nutrients. How are you fueling your body?
-Be mindful of the comments that you make about yourself, your body and food. Those little ears are hearing you and quite possibly at a younger age than you would expect.
Photo from: Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss
Take away message: Wanting to help your child make positive changes is never a bad thing. As a dietitian, I can tell you that the key to real success is getting everyone in the house headed in the right direction---no matter how different the steps to get there may look for everyone. You want the positive change for your child, but where do you fit in this new change?