Almost all kids have their pet peeves when it comes to the dinner table – they may insist on eating potatoes for every meal, or nothing but Cheerios. All these behaviors are normal, yet as parents, there are right ways and wrong ways to respond.
Expert Dina Rose’s five parental feeding styles were featured in The Washington Post this week in the article she says “we can help our kids push through these periods with healthy habits intact, or we can lead them toward overeating, emotional eating.”
Do you know your parental feeding style?
The profile: Nurturers believe that food equals love. Nurturers feel good about themselves when they feed others. Watching a child’s face light up at an ice cream cone makes them feel fantastic because nurturers often believe that treats are an essential part of a happy childhood.
The result: Giving kids treats to express love usually means these kids eat more unhealthy food than they should. These children also learn to confuse feelings with food. Love is a feeling; food is just food. Treats should be eaten in moderation, yet a parent’s love shouldn’t be bestowed in moderation.
The food police
The profile: Food police do not allow their children to eat candy and drink soda. These parents become overly restrictive with less healthful foods or force their children to eat the healthful ones even when the kids resist.
The result: Mealtime becomes a battleground, tense and unhappy, an association that can last into adulthood. Kids won’t learn to listen to their own hunger cues when forced to eat foods they don’t want, which can lead to adult overeating. Restricted kids often binge-eat the foods that they are not allowed to have in secret.
The profile: Nutritionistas know so much about nutrition and are so worried about getting specific nutrients into their kids that they lose sight of the big picture. They often settle on less healthy foods because, for instance, the hot dog they feed their son every night has some protein, the ice cream has some calcium and the Gatorade has some electrolytes.
The result: These children usually have a very a limited diet of less-than-healthy foods and a parent who is constantly worried about whether their child has eaten enough distinct nutrients.
The profile: Hunger avoiders are parents who are uncomfortable letting their children be hungry -ever. They give their kids the foods they like at all times. These parents often are afraid that if their child does not eat enough, he will be underweight and will not develop properly.
The result: Hunger avoiders usually raise kids who eat a monotonous diet of a few favorite foods, kids who snack too much and kids who use their hunger to get their parents’ attention.
The profile: Comforters use food to stop their child from having uncomfortable feelings, such as pain from a skinned knee or disappointment from a bad grade. These parents teach their kids that eating cookies and ice cream is an effective way to cure uncomfortable emotions.
Rewarders are similar to comforters, but instead of masking uncomfortable feelings with treats, rewarders dole out sugar to celebrate every success and happy moment.
The result: Treating feelings (bad or good) with food can lead to adult emotional eating and overeating. Children will learn that feeling upset is the same as feeling hungry when we’d rather teach them how to deal with those uncomfortable emotions through communication, self-care or even a hug.