The holiday season is a time for family, friends, traditions and of course — all of the themed meals and treats! However, the reality is, with kiddos, growing teens, extended family and a pandemic still lurking, this time can also be extremely stressful, and body positivity around the dinner table can be forgotten.
Living in a society and culture that zeros in on fad-diets, workout programs and picture-perfect ideas of what the holidays are “supposed” to be, it makes sense that our focus is pulled to all the things we want to change, or all the ways we just don’t seem to measure up.
This stress can translate to your kids as well, and for many, this stress can appear around mealtime. Young brains and bodies absorb what is being talked about in the household and media, which can often lead to negative mental and physical health effects later in life. Tweaking the way you talk about food and exercise can greatly impact how they see and feel about their own bodies. Consider these tips going into your next family meal this season!
- Allow your child some freedom to navigate their plate themselves. Instead of requiring them to try everything at a holiday meal with lots of new, and possibly overwhelming, foods, consider asking them if or what they would like to try! Try saying things like: “Would you like to try the green bean casserole?”
- Give positive reinforcement. Forcing, bribing and restricting certain types or portions of food groups can lead to negative rules and ideas of food later in life. Instead of saying “You have to eat everything on your plate”, try saying things like: “You don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to. I trust you to listen to your body.”
- Avoid the clean-plate club! Forcing your child to eat everything on their plate can confuse their notions about hunger, fullness and their body’s natural hunger cues. Instead, encourage them to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re satisfied.
- Avoid talking about calories and “burning off” things you have eaten together. Instead of saying “I need to go for a run to burn off this meal”, try saying things like: “If you want, I would love to get some fresh air with you after we eat!” This encourages connection instead of demonizing food and meals.
- Encourage positive self talk and body positivity! Kids go through all sorts of body changes as they grow up so it is especially important to remember that health does not look like a specific size or shape. Try adding in compliments and affirmations that focus on more than just their physical appearance.
- If your child is hungry before or after a planned meal — allow them to eat. Encourage and thank them for listening to their body’s hunger cues!
- Allow yourself the same food freedom! Your body can tell you amazing things about what it wants, needs and craves — if you let it! Listen to your body and leave society’s diet culture rules and judgments at the door. Your kiddos will follow your lead!
Remember, you won’t look back on this holiday season and think “I’m so glad I got my child to finish her plate at Christmas dinner!” You’ll remember the love, joy and laughter you shared — both in and out of the dining room.
End Disclaimer: Children who exhibit stress or difficulties around mealtime may be at risk for disordered eating. Early detection and intervention is important. If you or your child is struggling with an eating disorder, you can contact the National Eating Disorders Association confidential helpline at (800) 931-2237, or visit nationaleatingdisorders.org for more resources, help and support.