Forcing children to clear their plates could lead to eating disorders
by DANIEL MARTIN
Parents who force fussy toddlers to clear their plates could make them more likely to grow up suffering from anorexia, bulimia or obesity.
A study suggests that meal-time battles between pushy parents and picky children could be linked to a range of eating disorders later in life.
Making children eat what they do not want to makes them resentful of not being in control of their eating habits, the research claims.
It also means they do not learn to properly regulate their eating - making them more likely to over- or under-eat when they grow up.
Research leader Dr Linda Gilmore. said: “Parents should not turn mealtime into a struggle for control because some evidence suggests that eating disorders such as anorexia stem from a desire to take control over one’s own body.
"If children are forced to ‘sit at the table until they eat it’ this turns into a struggle for who has power over the child’s eating habits which could well set the scene for later eating problems."
Dr Gilmore said the dinner-table power struggle could also lead to obesity because that condition is related to the inability to self-regulate.
"If children aren’t allowed some control over what they eat, they cannot learn to develop good self-regulation," he said. "Ultimately children must learn to manage their own behaviour and to do that, they must be allowed to choose."
She said many parents were harsh on “fussy” eaters because they thought the problem was much less common that it was.
"Some parents take their child’s refusal to eat food they have prepared as personal rejection or think the child is just being really naughty," she said.
"But my research suggests that eating difficulties are relatively common in early childhood. Some children simply don’t like the taste or the texture, even the colour of certain foods.
"Likes and dislikes may change from week to week but it’s important to recognise this is fairly normal behaviour and not to turn it into a really big problem that interferes with the parent-child relationship."
Dr Gilmore, a psychologist at Queensland University of Technology, combined her research on 304 families with children aged two to four, with another study of children aged seven to nine.
She said parents had fewer children in modern times, meaning parents knew more about the details of the child’s behaviour, “sometimes to the point of worrying obsessively and responding in ways that escalate a small difficulty into a much bigger problem.”
But Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the Eating Disorders Association, said the study wasn’t large-scale enough to draw any firm conclusions.
"There’s a chicken and egg situation here," she said.
"We don’t know if the battle at the dinner table leads to the eating disorder, or whether it is the other way round; that the tendencies towards eating disorder are present first."
She said there was growing research which indicated that eating disorders were often the result of genetic factors coming out in a child’s personality and the desire for self-control.
"So the genetic and personality make-up of the child, which make the child want more self-control, would have come out in the food anyway.
"We don’t believe it’s the food that triggers eating disorders - it’s the struggle for control that does that."
But Dr Frankie Phillips, a dietician at the British Dietetic Association, said: “If there is a culture of having to eat everything on your plate I can see how that could lead to obesity later in life.
"It says you are not controlled by your appetite, you are controlled by what’s on your plate. That might mean that when you go to a restaurant you might eat too much."
Tam Fry of the National Obesiry Forum said: “It is so important for a child at an early age to regulate their own intake.
"No child will willingly starve itself so force feeding should never be contemplated."
Dr Anna Denny, nutritional scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, said she agreed with the findings of the study.
"It backs up previous research showing that the Victorian attitude of telling children they must eat everything on their plate is not the way forward," she said.
"We suggest children should be given small protions of nutritious food regularly, and should not be expected to eat massive plates of food."
Dr Denny said young children should have a varied diet including proteins such as meat, vegetables and carbohydrates such as potatoes or wholemeal bread.
They should also have plenty of fat until they are about 10 because of the energy required to grow. They need whole milk not skimmed, she said.
Around one million people in the UK are estimated to have an eating disorder. Anorexia is the loss of apetite causing low body weight, while bulimia manifests itself in people who binge eat and then vomit it up.
The average age at which eating disorders develop is 14. Eighty per cent of new cases are between eight and 20.
What are you thoughts? Should we make children eat everything on their plate? Share your wisdom at http://www.facebook.com/parentingtoolbox
When attempting to build your dream family it is tempting to focus on right circumstances over right responses.
In your mind, when you imagine your dream family, life is happy and warm. What do you do in the meantime when things are hard and cold relationally?
The answer is you concentrate on how you respond to others as if the reality of your new family has already taken place until it actually does. Take the vision of who you want your family to be and hold on to that as you begin acting in a manner congruent to it. It won’t fit the situation but you are working to transform your family from the inside out to get real, lasting change not just outward compliance.
Take a moment to picture what would be different in your dream family? Allow yourself to imagine how YOU would be reacting to others in your home. Start that behavior today…
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We are not super parents and can’t mange every behavioral issue. Pick one that has the most serious consequence and work on it and then focus on the next one and so forth.
A common conflict comes when a behavior issue impacts school. Often it is better to focus on the behavior and not worry about the grad point average. That will work itself out after you gain success with the behaviors.
Try this for two weeks and let us know how it goes.
Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, are what Dr. Phil calls a “silent epidemic.” In the beginning, girls ” and boys too ” may choose to restrict their diets or to purge for one reason, but they end up continuing to do so because it becomes an addiction. Early intervention is crucial because once an eating disorder gets a grip on someone, it’s far more difficult to treat.
When it comes to grandkids, grandparents can tend to undermine you and spoil the kids rotten without a second though. Although your in-laws may drive you up the wall, try and broach the topic calmly and with solutions in mind.
Criticism about parenting
There are no set rules for parenting, but when it comes to the way your partner changes a diaper or the fact that you rock junior to sleep on occasion, it seems like parents are quick to criticize one another. Before you voice your opinion on why feeding your little one like an airplane is better than a choo choo, remind yourself that your way isn’t better than his. Unless health or safety is concerned, and choose your battles.
» Check out Grandparents: What parents really want from you and pass on tips to your parents.
Escaping for “me” time
A major parenting issue is the loss of “me” time, which can lead to frequent “I’ll be right back” moments that stretch on for hours. To help address this need, communicate with your partner and establish ample alone time away for each of you.
» Discover how to find me time.
Dividing household and baby duties
Before you expanded your family, the division of household chores was clear cut. But with kids comes additional responsibilities, so set up time to divide up household and baby duties so there is no confusion or resentment and avoid this issue that parents commonly fight about.
How to discipline your children
There are thousands of tips for parents on how to discipline your children, but when it comes to doling out punishment, parents often find themselves on different pages. When you find yourselves butting heads over how your kids should be disciplined, set time aside away from little ears and discuss how you’d like to discipline your children.
» Avoid the 3 discipline mistakes parents make.
Deciding who gets up with the kids
Having kids usually means getting a lot less sleep. Whether it’s getting up with the baby in the middle of the night or getting up with the kids at the crack of dawn, agree on a schedule to cut out any bitterness or feelings that your partner is getting more sleep than you.
One of the most important tips for parents is this: The best way to parent is to parent together. “Remember: parenting is a team effort. A team is a group of people with different skills and different ways of doing things,” says Neil Mcnerney, LPC. “Being a parent team is more about supporting each other’s leadership and less about trying to parent identically.” Once you open up the lines of communication and focus on supporting one another, you may find that you share more opinions on parenting than you realize and can avoid some of the top six parenting issues.
Read more about co-parenting
What do you fight about? Share your thoughts and creative solutions to managing these hot parenting topics at http://www.facebook.com/parentingtoolbox.com
"Don’t Forget about Me!"I have often mentioned the social-emotional journey toward the acceptance of a learning disability (LD) and shared information and resources that were intended to help adults work though the complex emotions that go hand in hand with having a child who struggles with learning. The feedback I received (thank you to all who wrote to share your first-hand experiences and to offer ideas for future discussion) reminded me how important it is to also recognize the experience of other family members, particularly siblings, whose lives are affected, often in dramatic ways, by living with an individual with LD.
Seeing the Forest Through the Trees
Raising children is a wonderful journey that has rewards and challenges every step along the way. Parenting children with special needs (whether they have health issues, problems with learning and behavior, and even exceptional abilities) is especially labor intensive. The attention and energy expended to meet these special needs and keep a healthy balance between home and school can be all-consuming and at times exhausting. As a consequence of this day-in and day-out juggling act, the feelings and needs of non-disabled siblings might be unintentionally overlooked.
Video: A Family of BrothersFour brothers, two with learning disabilities, talk about how they support each other. Watch now >
Made possible by a grant from the Oak Foundation.
Being on “LD alert” 24/7 can be very tiring, and parental stress and fatigue alone takes a toll on siblings who continually have to figure out how they fit into the flow of family activity and emotions and how their needs for attention, approval and assistance can be met. With parents needing to devote additional time and resources to helping one child, the overall family dynamic is easily thrown off balance.
Siblings Have Feelings, Too
What could siblings be thinking and feeling as they watch their brother or sister struggle with learning? If they could find the right words, they might touch upon the very same emotions that were described by a psychologist in the 1940s who proposed a model of understanding human behavior. This ‘hierarchy of needs’ can readily be used to understand some of the emotions that need to be appreciated, understood and addressed by parents and other adults in order to help siblings cope with feelings of anger, jealousy, worry, guilt, and embarrassment that comprise their personal “baggage” as siblings and family members.
Physiology (having to do with comfort and the physical body)
- "How come he gets more hugs than I do? And for things that are expected of everyone, like finishing homework!"
Safety (dealing with the need to be protected from harm)
- "Why can’t he make his own sandwich? He just needs to be careful with the bread knife.
- "What’s the big deal about him riding his bike to school?"
Belongingness and love (feeling attachment to others)
- "It seems like she’s always the first one to get attention."
- "I’m always doing things for her; when was the last time she did something for me?"
Esteem (having your thoughts and actions valued by others)
- "If you ask me, I’d tell you that you need to back off a little; you’re doing things for him that he should be doing for himself."
- "What about my report card? Pretty good, huh?"
Knowledge and understanding (seeking information)
- "When will her LD go away?"
- "Is she ever going to be able to do her work on her own?"
Aesthetic (deriving pleasure and triggering emotion)
- "He’s got a great laugh, even though his sense of humor is weird."
- "I wish I knew how to really help him when he’s feeling down on himself."
Self-actualization (having “peak experiences” that provide self-fulfillment)
- "I know we’re very different, but we’ll always be there to support each other."
- "They said he couldn’t learn how to play guitar, and I taught him!"
Transcendence (connecting to something beyond yourself to help others)
- "Everyone deserves to be appreciated for who they are and not just what they can do."
- "I know how important it is to spend time with him and his friends; they really look up to me and know that I will treat them with respect (even though they can be annoying and immature at times)."
As I wrote around this time a year ago, I love making New Year’s resolutions. For me, it’s a moment to take stock of where I am, and where I want to be, and of all the things I’ve said I hoped to do and have or haven’t done — and why. The resolutions I fail at are always the ones I didn’t really want to keep.
This year, for the first time, I hope to gather my family and persuade them to talk about what we did and didn’t do well as a family this year, and to make a family resolution: Who do we want to be together in 2013? (My husband will say that he wants us to be a family that does not make New Year’s resolutions.)
In that spirit, I asked authors I admire to offer one single resolution to help shape a happier family life in the year ahead.
Brené Brown, author of “Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection”: One intention our family is setting for 2013 is to make more art. It doesn’t matter if it’s more photography, more painting, experimenting in the kitchen, or building the LEGO Death Star (which is our family project right now). I want to create together. It keeps us connected and spiritually grounded.
Andrew and Caitlin Friedman, authors of “Family, Inc.: Take a meeting with your partner or family. Spending just 30 minutes a week on our to-do list, schedule and brainstorming bigger decisions really helped us take control of the chaos that is working parenthood.
Po Bronson, co-author of “NurtureShock” and the forthcoming “Top Dog” (January 2013): Our resolution in our family is pretty simple: argue less, talk more. Even though in “NurtureShock” we wrote that arguing is the opposite of lying, and it is, there’s a lot of arguing that’s just about arguing, and we hope for less of it.
Ashley Merryman, co-author of “NurtureShock” and the forthcoming “Top Dog” (January 2013): This year, I want to sit less. You can read that as “need to exercise” – true enough – but sitting also means I’m spending too much time online, watching too much TV, and so on. Instead, I want to do more meaningful things with people I care about.
Bruce Feiler, “This Life” columnist for Sunday Styles and author of “Walking the Bible”, “Abraham” and “The Secrets of Happy Families” (coming in February): Bribe more creatively (fewer direct rewards for good behavior; more unanticipated praise and surprise adventures). Celebrate more fully (worry less about bad moments; make more of the good). Play more often.
Madeline Levine, author of “Teach Your Children Well”: I resolve to lead with my ears and not my mouth. I’ve yet to meet a child who feels like they’ve been listened to too much.
Asha Dornfest, founder of Parent Hacks and co-author of “Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less”: Embrace the idea of course correction. When faced with a parenting decision, briefly survey your options then make the best choice you can, knowing you can recalculate your route to the destination as the situation — and your family — changes.
Christine Koh, founder of Boston Mamas and co-author of “Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less”: Strive for a less frantic family calendar in 2013 by finding your “Goldilocks level of busy.” Review the last couple of months of your family calendar and identify how many events or activities made your weeks feel too crazy, too slow or just right. Shoot for the “just right” number each week.
Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project” and “Happier at Home”: It’s easy to fall into the bad habit of barely looking up from games, homework, books or devices when family members come and go. For that reason, in my family, we made a group resolution to “give warm greetings and farewells.” This habit is surprisingly easy to acquire — it doesn’t take any extra time, energy or money — and it makes a real difference to the atmosphere of home.
Rivka Caroline, author of “From Frazzled to Focused” (@SoBeOrganized): Keep adding to your “to-don’t” list. As frustrating as it is, there just isn’t time for everything. Every “to-don’t” makes room for a “to-do.”
Laura Vanderkam, author of “What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend”: Think about how you want to spend your downtime. Weekends, evenings and vacations can be opportunities for adventure, but we often lose them in front of the TV because we fail to plan. In 2013, make a bucket list of the fun you want to have as a family — then get those ideas on the calendar.
Michelle Cove, author of “I Love Mondays, and Other Confessions from Devoted Working Moms”: The next time you’re about to apologize to anyone — children, colleagues — ask yourself if you’ve really done anything wrong. Too often, we moms apologize by default.
My son is very much a loner at his high school. He was never a very popular child, but in the last year, he has become more and more isolated. I know he would never become violent, but I worry about how to help him. When I try to get him to join clubs or call old friends, he refuses. I don’t know what to do.
We all knew one in high school; the nerd, the loner, the geeky kid who sat in the back of the class and didn’t say much. As teenagers, we didn’t have the skills to reach out to classmates who seemed different from us, not to mention the fact that most of us were afraid to risk sacrificing whatever social status we had by befriending a kid who was “weird.”
Mostly sweet and sensitive, socially awkward kids quietly inhabit the fringes of our world. If they’re lucky, they have one similarly-afflicted friend; someone to take the edge off the loneliness of not fitting in, someone to eat lunch and play video games with them.
But many, like your boy, don’t have a someone. They move like a shadow through their school day, desperately waiting for the end-of-school bell that signals relief from the seven hours of social hell. Some — those who are simply shy — come back to life when they get home, becoming animated, fiesty and fully engaged with family members.
Others, however, remain isolated, even in the midst of family. They retreat to their room, often spending hours in front of some kind of screen to numb their pain, boredom and depression. They often form alliances — “friendships” — with similar kids online, playing group online video games where their particular skill set feels valued, and where they experience a sense of belonging or importance.
Most of the kids I’ve worked with like your son go through the motions of daily life with a heavy heart, and are very much in need of help and support.
One young man I worked with taught me the importance of even the smallest gesture of kindness. Jeff* was a great kid — funny, very smart, emotionally immature and terribly awkward. Each time he came to see me he would catalog, in great detail, the ways he had been ignored or excluded. Jeff’s odd demeanor and quirky comments alienated others. He felt invisible.
I was always touched when this young man would tell me about someone who had acknowledged him with a simple, “Hi, Jeff,” or ask how he was doing on a science project. The fact that someone knew his name, or made even a small effort to connect, would lift his spirits for days.
Here are a few suggestions for helping kids like your son, both for you as a parent, and for those of us who have a youngster in our world whose day might be brightened if we became the one person who reached out:
• Avoid lecturing, shaming or advising. Many kids who suffer from social awkwardness are admonished by their parents to try harder to be friendly. While some may benefit from this advice, making your son feel that he is at fault for his lack of friendships can feel excrutiating, and will certainly make him resistant to any input or guidance you might have to offer.
• Don’t pepper him for information about his day. In your eagerness to draw your son out of his shell you may end up coming across as though you’re interrogating him. "How was your day?" "Did you talk to anyone?" "Who did you eat lunch with?" Kids who are socially awkward are usually quite sensitive, and can be easily flooded by too many questions.
• Create space for your youngster to connect with you at home in his own way. Come alongside, rather than at him. Don’t demand face to face conversation if he is more comfortable talking while the two of you are driving somewhere, or unloading the dishwasher. Show interest in the things he’s interested in, allowing him to come your way without feeling pushed or pressured.
• Identify and nurture his gifts. Social Intelligence is one of the eight forms of intelligence identified by psychologist Howard Gardner. Kids who easily establish rapport and forge friendships are strong in this form of intelligence, but there are many other expressions of genius, including Musical, Logic/Mathematic, Verbal/Linguistic, Naturalist, Visual/ Spatial, Body/ Kinesthetic and Intrapersonal Intelligence. Help your son identify his natural interests, and arrange for opportunities to explore and develop his unique talents.
• Provide him with a mentor. While your son may not have stellar social skills, he’s great at something. Whether it’s playing guitar, designing computer graphics or juggling, look for someone—perhaps a college kid, or a tutor at the local Boys and Girls Club—who can take him under his wing. These get togethers will provide him with the chance to develop his talents and improve his conversational skills in a more relaxed setting.
• Find outside groups or clubs he can join. Whether it’s a church or temple youth group, an after school computer club, or a volunteer organization, your son may come to life in a smaller setting where there are older kids/ counselors who can help youngsters feel accepted and celebrated as they are.
• Get professional help. There was once a stigma attached to therapy or counseling, but that is changing. There is no shame in seeking outside support for your son, and he may open up to someone skillful at drawing him out in ways that would surprise you. I have worked with very withdrawn young men and women whose parents warned me by saying, "I doubt if he’ll say more than two words to you." These very kids often talked non-stop once their parent left the room, desperately relieved to have found a safe place to offload their pent up feelings.
In the aftermath of the tragic shootings in Sandy Hook, the focus on mental health came to the forefront as it was discovered that the perpetrator was a reportedly isolated and troubled teen. We cannot make it the sole responsibility of classmates, teachers or even parents to heal out a socially awkward youngster who may need professional help, but we can each pay more attention to those young men and women in our midst who struggle to create and maintain friendships. Even the smallest expression of care and interest can help boost the confidence of a child like your son. I hope he gets the help he needs and deserves.
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Staying strong through tough times
Losing a loved one is probably the worst thing that can happen to someone.
When you are grieving a loss, continuing to be present as a parent can be difficult — especially if your children are grieving too. How can you give your children what they need during this time, when you aren’t even sure what you need?
Grief is a journey like no other. When you are a parent, you can’t just put your children on hold while you sort out your feelings of sadness and loss. Life goes on, children need stability and they may be dealing with grief as well.
Help yourself first
Jennifer Shurnas was in her early 40s when she experienced the sudden and horrific death of her husband. She was faced not only with grieving the loss of her husband of almost 20 years, but with helping her three daughters through the experience as well. “One metaphor that describes parenting during grief is the airplane oxygen mask instruction which flight attendants give you — in order to help your children you must first help yourself,” Shurnas shares. “Fundamentally, you can’t help your child unless you are helping yourself.” Find the support you need in close friends, family members or a therapist. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, and accept offers of help when offered.
“Don’t hide your feelings,” advises Christina Steinorth, licensed psychotherapist and author of Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships. “Many parents make the mistake of ‘being strong for the children’ and hiding their feelings of grief.” Especially when the children are also grieving the loss, it is helpful for them to see how adults process those same feelings. “Parents need to know that it’s OK for their children to see them sad,” says Steinorth. “When parents hide their feelings while the kids are grieving too, it doesn’t help children learn to process grief. It almost teaches them that it’s not OK to be sad and have feelings of loss and hurt.”"Each year we release three dozen red, white and blue balloons
into the sky in his memory.”
“A child observing your own grief, mourning and processing makes you authentically human and credible to them — someone they can relate to,” shares Shurnas. “It sends a message that it’s OK for them to do the same.” Depending on the age of the child, they will understand and process feelings of grief and loss differently — but look to parents and other adults for guidance.
“While each individual’s grief journey is unique, they will hopefully settle into their own process with your guidance and the guidance of others,” says Shurnas. Each of her three daughters found a different way to work through mourning their father. “My youngest child made and edited amazing videos of her father and dubbed them to music. My middle child would draw for hours at a time, and my eldest would talk and write about her feelings,” she remembers. Her own way of working through mourning involved touching objects that belonged to her husband, reading things that he wrote, looking at photographs and writing.
Sometimes, just having someone who counts on you each day is enough to make you keep moving forward. “It isn’t an easy balancing act,” Shurnas adds, “but my desire to take care of my children while making endless necessary decisions actually saved me from falling into a deep ditch of depression. Quite simply, my daughters indirectly saved me.” After the initial period of mourning passes, many find that trying to return to a regular routine of work and family commitments helps them stay on track as parents — and helps their children see that life goes on.
For some families, observing special days of remembrance or having rituals they can perform together helps. Shurnas and her daughters decided to have special rituals from time to time to acknowledge her husband’s spirit and keep the good memories of him close to their hearts. “For example,” she shares, “his favorite holiday was the Fourth of July — Independence Day. So, each year we release three dozen red, white and blue balloons into the sky in his memory. Red represents the love we have for him, the white is for peace in our hearts and the blue represents our releasing our ‘blues.’”
Parenting can be difficult as you face the emotional challenges of grief and loss. By including your children in your process of grief and recovery, you are teaching them a life lesson and helping yourself at the same time.
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