This article was written by one of our volunteers, Larissa Stanley.
8-year-old Ava loves to eat and will often eat more than her father at meals! Her father is worried. He struggled with his own weight his whole life and doesn’t want the same for his daughter.
What should Ava’s father do?
His concern is common. As a parent, he wants what is best for his daughter. He brainstorms ideas to ensure that Ava does not go through what he has. He decides he will remind Ava she only needs one serving at meals and remove her afterschool snack to make up for her large portions.
Let’s consider this. Much like the previous scenarios, we can go back to the Division of Responsibilities (DOR) for the principles which can guide your decisions around feeding your child.
Prior to diving in, in a situation like this where Ava is eating large portions, you can first ask yourself – How is my child growing?
- Growth Spurts: What seems like a lot of food to you, may be exactly what their body needs at that time. You may find that after a week or longer of a child eating more than usual, they have a large growth spurt.
- Growth Curves: These are used by health care professionals to track how children are growing. Your child is healthy if they are growing along their own curve. It doesn’t matter if that is at the 25th %ile or the 85th %ile. Growth along their personal growth curve is what is healthy for them. If your child’s weight is jumping growth curves, up or down, this may need further discussion with your doctor. Contact your health care professional if you are concerned about your child’s growth.
A quick reminder that as a parent, when feeding your child, you are responsible for the WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE while your child is responsible for IF and HOW MUCH they eat. In this scenario, Ava’s father was concerned over his daughter’s eating and made the decision to restrict the food that was available to her. In restricting Ava, her father had taken over her role of IF and HOW MUCH she would eat.
Restricting food can lead to many unintended eating problems in children. Restricting can include limiting the amount of food you allow your child to eat, avoiding certain types of foods (chips, sweets, high fat foods etc…), or questioning your child’s choice to eat certain foods/amounts of foods.
We want to aim for children to have a positive and healthy relationship with food. Restricting can interrupt their natural ability to self-regulate how much they eat. Parents can trust that their child will listen to their body and eat the amount that is right for them.
Restricting food can lead to other problems as well. A child may become unsure if there will be enough food. This uncertainty can lead to behaviours such as hiding food in their room and sneaking food to eat between meals. As is true for adults, the more you focus on food the more your child will become preoccupied with it.
Instead of restricting, Ava’s father could consider his role in feeding Ava. As we have discussed over the past posts, consider her father’s roles:
Balanced meals and snacks. Give a variety of different foods without restricting certain types. Allow your child to control how much of this they choose to eat.
Use positive language around food. Refrain from making comments about how much your child eats.
Consistent meal and snack times. This allows your child to be know when food is available. Limit grazing on food between these times.
Have meals and snacks at one spot. Make sure this area is free from distractions.
After implementing these changes, Ava may still take large portions at meals. However, both her and her father can trust that if she is doing her job of following what her body is telling her she needs that she will be a healthy and happy child.
If you need help implementing these principles in your home please contact us!