5 Key Phrases Your Kids Need to Hear to Feel Better About Eating
Our words are more powerful than we know.
This is especially true when it comes to how we talk to our kids about food and eating.
Have you thought about the hidden messages behind phrases like:
"No, you can't eat that!"
"Try at least one bite first, it's good for you"
"If you don't stop doing that, you won't get ice cream tonight"
Can you relate?
These phrases may seem harmless and are even well-intentioned, but what if these words were actually making eating more difficult for our kids?
The Parent-Child Feeding Relationship
Before we talk about phrases that could encourage your child to feel better about eating and have a positive relationship with food and their bodies, let’s step back and look at the big picture.
Feeding your kids is more than just the foods you offer or try to get them to eat.
Feeding your child is a relationship that needs care and nurturing. From this feeding relationship, your child will form their feelings, attitudes, and behaviors toward eating.
The way we talk to our kids about food and eating is a reflection of the feeding relationship we might have with our children. At the root of this feeding relationship lies our own relationship with food, and this will directly impact how we feed our children.
For example, if you don’t trust yourself to eat desserts or have had a chaotic history with sweets, this might cause you to also distrust your child in eating these foods.
As another example, if you fear weight gain or feel insecure in your body, you may worry about your child eating too much or also gaining weight.
These are just a couple examples of the many possible scenarios that might occur in the parent-child feeding relationship. From these interactions can come phrases that verbally communicate our own insecurities or fears about ourselves and our kids when it comes to food and eating.
So telling your child, “You can’t eat that”, or “You need to take one more bite”, may actually be telling them, “You can’t be trusted when it comes to food and your body”, making eating a negative experience.
So what can you say instead?
Focus on These Mealtime Messages
Here are some helpful mealtime messages you can share with your child that will empower them to eat intuitively, trust their bodies, and avoid feeding issues, like picky eating and eating disorders.
“We Can Have More of That Soon”: You are reminding your child that food is always in their future, no matter what it is. This statement can help prevent the “scarcity” mentality, which can actually trigger kids to overeat foods that they are told they cannot have more of.
“You Don’t Have to Eat That”: Kids need to know that they can be trusted to listen to their bodies. Empower your child to decide for themselves whether or not they want to eat and how much they want to eat. This phrase reinforces this to your child and puts less pressure on them to eat.
“Listen to Your Body”: If your child seems unsure about what or how much to eat, encourage them to listen to their body rather than eat a certain amount. This helps to remind them that they are in charge of feeding their body and can trust their body to guide them.
“The Kitchen Is Closed Until…”: It’s important for kids to have boundaries and structure around food. Remember, “parents provide, the child decides”. Having a meal schedule with eating can simplify food for your entire family and make things less chaotic for you and your kids. If they are asking for food outside of designated meals/snacks, remind them that there will be food coming soon.
“Yes, We Can Try That”: Kids are curious and learning how to eat different foods. They may ask to try things they see in the store or that they see other kids eating. While it’s not realistic to cater to their every demand, you can incorporate those “fun foods” that your kid wants to try into meals and snacks. This helps your child trust that all foods are safe to eat.
Encouraging Your Child to Eat Starts With You
If you find yourself saying phrases to your kids that might deter them from eating, it's important to stop and reflect on where this message may be coming from. As always, give yourself grace through this learning experience and remember that feeding our children is not something we’re supposed to have figured out perfectly.
Just like any relationship, the feeding relationship we have with our child will take time, experience, and trust to grow. Remember mama, you are the root of this feeding relationship. If you have struggled with past issues related to food or your body, this will impact how you feed your child.
Ultimately, disordered eating in ourselves will create disordered feeders. If you need support, please connect with me today and begin your journey to creating a healthy foundation for raising your children.