When our children were teens and pre-teens, I started writing a Bible study on emotional eating. One day I was working on the study and the thought hit me, We’re teaching our kids to be emotional eaters!
Not on purpose—but subtly by the way we were raising them. I’m hoping you can learn from our mistakes. Here are 8 things you can do to help your kids avoid a lifelong struggle with weight.
8 Secrets for Raising Kids Who Don’t Struggle With Weight
1. Don’t praise them for being “good eaters.”
Let’s face it. Haven’t most of us praised our new little eaters by saying, “Oh you’re doing so great! You’re such a good eater!”
We’re excited that they’re learning how to eat with a spoon and a fork, but it’s a mistake to praise them for being good eaters. Kids like to be praised and they may eat more than their bodies need just to receive the praise.
We can still praise them, but saying things like, “Look at you! You’re such a big boy—eating with a spoon already!” might be more helpful.
2. Teach them to stop eating when they’re full.
I was great about teaching my kids to read and do math, but it never occurred to me to teach them appropriate serving sizes. I just let them dish up whatever they wanted and made them eat everything on their plates.
My skinny friend taught her kids to listen to their tummies and stop eating when they felt full. Her kids are adults now and have never struggled with their weight.
If I had it to do over again, I would use her method and let my kids leave food on their plates if necessary. If I saw them continuously leaving food on their plates, I’d ask them to take smaller portions.
3. Don’t let them snack if they’re never hungry for meals.
I still remember a homeschooling conference I went to when the kids were little. The presenter told us that if we let our kids fill up on junk food (computer games, television, movies), they wouldn’t be hungry for real food (learning life skills). Let them be bored and they’ll be more interested in healthier pursuits.
The same holds true with food. When we let the kids eat too much junk food, they aren’t hungry for the healthy food we offer. If you can help kids look at junk food and sweets as an every-once-in-awhile event, they’ll be more likely to follow that habit the rest of their lives.
[bctt tweet=”Raising Kids Who Don’t Struggle With Weight: #2 Teach them to stop eating when they’re full. @barbraveling”]
4. Don’t tie all celebrations to food.
Another thing we did wrong was to tie almost all celebrations to food. Have a hard day working out in the yard? Let’s get some pizza! Finish your science project? Let’s go get a blizzard! Have a good baseball game? Let’s go to the bakery and get a treat!
While there is nothing wrong with celebrating with food, when we do it all the time, the kids learn that they deserve a reward for what they’ve accomplished. When that reward is always food, it sets them up for possible weight gain in the future.
5. Don’t always suggest treats when they’re going through hard things in life.
I did this all the time. When we had a hard day, I’d say, “Let’s drown our sorrows in ice cream!” I said it with a fun tone of voice and a smile on my face, but my message was clear: When life is hard, have a treat. I was setting my kids up to be emotional eaters.
6. Don’t let them eat as much cookie dough as they want.
Making cookies was a common occurrence at our house and it was also common to eat cookie dough. Because we ate little bits at a time, we had no idea how much we ate. We just knew that we were sick of cookie dough by the time the cookies came out of the oven.
This teaches kids that at certain times, it’s okay to eat as much as you want. Not a good thing to learn! Later on we started a policy that we didn’t eat any cookie dough until we were putting the last tray in the oven. That way we knew how much we were eating and weren’t tempted to eat more because there wasn’t any more to eat!
[bctt tweet=”Raising Kids Who Don’t Struggle With Weight: #5 Don’t always suggest treats as a solution. @barbraveling”]
7. Help them manage their holiday candy.
One of the quandaries we faced was what to do with holiday candy. Do we let them eat it all at once and just get it over with, or do we make them space it out over the course of the next month or two?
I’m sad to say we usually let them take the first option. This taught them to think, “It’s okay to eat as much as I want when it’s a holiday.”
8. Help them develop an active lifestyle.
This was actually something we did right! As a family we hiked, skied, backpacked, and went on lots of walks. We limited “screen time” (computer games and videos) to 3 hours a week, and the kids played outside a lot.
They’re all adults now and they still have active lifestyles. The more you can help them develop active pursuits the better.
It might seem like my ideas are overkill, but after talking to hundreds of people who struggle with weight as adults, I don’t think so.
Most people learn the behaviors that make them struggle with weight when they’re young. We can help our kids avoid future problems with weight by helping them develop healthy habits when they’re young.
Barb Raveling is a retired homeschooler who now writes and podcasts at barbraveling.com. Her most recent books are Taste for Truth: A 30 Day Weight Loss Bible Study and The Renewing of the Mind Project.