A parent’s reaction to a crying baby is usually to feed the baby, granted his diaper is dry and big sister didn’t hide a Lego up his nose. Cry, feed, cry, feed . . . for months on end; but before you know it, this stops being a healthy response. Studies have found that parents who continue to feed their children when they’re upset are teaching emotional eating and may predispose them to weight issues and eating disorders.
High Beam Research reports that appeasing children with food “can lead to a bad diet in adulthood, low self-esteem, comfort-eating and eating disorders, while it will also teach children to use food as a ‘source of solace’ which fills an emotional void.”
This is quite serious. And it’s something I keep a close eye on with my daughter, for she often claims to be hungry when she’s bored, doesn’t get her way, or is avoiding unpleasant feelings (you know, like most adults). Instead of feeding her when I know she’s not physically hungry — which would be easier on both of us, I’ll admit — I ask her what she’s feeling.
Sometimes, that’s all it takes for her to stop, think about it, and open up. Other times, it takes a little more effort on my part, even requires me to stop working and give her some impromptu mommy-and-me time. Like I said, throwing comfort food her way would be easier, which would explain a lot about the problem with childhood obesity in the States.
Point is, listening and encouraging kids to reflect on the real reason behind their “hunger” can save a bundle in your grocery budget (kidding . . . well, no, it can). But more importantly, it teaches children to be aware of what they’re feeling, to process their emotions, and to never suppress them with food. It’s one of those valuable lessons that has long-term effects on their emotional well-being and overall health.