Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Teaching Children about Healthy Eating

March is National Nutrition Month. Parents are a child's introduction to food, and we begin to shape our child's food preferences even before birth, according to Dr. Alan Greene, author of Feeding Baby Green. As we learn more about the impact of nutrition on our health, we also realize how vital it is that we teach our children about healthy eating. From finishing their vegetables as a toddler to making healthy choices in the school lunch line, we want our children to understand the connection between what they eat right now and their energy, their feelings, their weight, and their future health. We also want to avoid quibbling over every carrot and candy bar. Here are steps that parents can take to teach their children important things about eating healthy.

Keep it Peaceful
What our child eats or doesn’t eat at the dinner table can easily become a power struggle trigger. When we pressure our child to eat something he does not want – even when we know that it is good for him – he may resist even more. Eating then becomes more about resisting and less about health and enjoyment. To avoid power struggling over food, remind yourself that your job is simply to present healthy meals to your family. Commit to keeping mealtime peaceful.

Keep the Connection of Food to Feelings and Energy
Maintain an ongoing casual conversation with your child about the impact of the food we eat on how we feel and on how much energy we have on tap for the things we want to do. If you notice that your child becomes cranky, lethargic, jumpy or scattered after eating sugar, processed foods or foods with artificial colors, ask him how he is feeling. Ask him to notice his energy levels. Ask your child to notice how he feels after eating raw fruit or a healthy, balanced lunch. Include the questions, “How do you want to feel?” and “How much energy do you want?” If your child complains of feeling tired, make the food connection. When was his last meal and what did he eat? Following a healthy snack, ask him to check out his new energy level.

Keep it Varied
Offer an array of different foods throughout the week, including new foods, and offer new foods many times. If your child says he does not like a new food, continue to offer it over several months – up to twenty times – so that it becomes familiar and he has more opportunities to sample it. Offer the new food prepared in a variety of ways. Add some adventure by preparing food from different cultures and countries.

Keep Health His Responsibility
Our health is our responsibility. As our children get older, their health becomes something for them to own. For example, we made an early connection between dairy consumption and ear infections with our daughter. When she was younger, we limited her dairy consumption. As an eleven-year-old, she began to monitor her intake of dairy, knowing if she ate or drank it more than a few times a week, she would most likely get sick.

Children feel very valuable when they help prepare meals. Together, plan menus for the week and shop for ingredients. Include menus for school lunches in your planning, and let your child begin to make his own lunch when age-appropriate.

Children’s cookbooks offer recipes for children as young as four. Mollie Katzen is the author of many beautifully illustrated and healthy cookbooks for children, including Salad People, Honest Pretzels, and Pretend Soup. American Girl also offers cookbooks for young people.

Keep it Real and Balanced
No matter how healthy we eat home, our child will probably have a piece of cake at a birthday party or drink a soda with a friend. If we keep it in balance – avoiding “outlawing” all soft drinks or criminalizing cake – our children will keep it in balance, too. As vegetarians, we have walked that tightrope. We have made eating meat a choice for our daughter and have requested that she choose vegetarian meals at school. Loving Mexican food, she once opted to eat tacos with ground beef for lunch in the cafeteria. She ended up coming home with a stomach ache. By avoiding the extreme of “you may never eat meat,” she took the responsibility for her food choices, we avoided power struggles over food, and she was clearly aware of the food-feeling connection.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Trampoline of Self-Esteem

February is National Boost Self-Esteem Month. High self-esteem is sometimes compared to an umbrella that shelters a child from harmful choices and unhealthy risks. There is an old image, maybe from an ancient Mother Earth News, of a child under an umbrella marked “Self-Esteem,” and it shielding her from drugs, alcohol, violence, promiscuity, suicide and addiction. All of those scary labels are coming down from the sky like rain. Yikes! Comparing self-esteem to a trampoline feels better. Self-esteem as a trampoline gives a child the bounce to stretch herself in the world, to take healthy chances, and to rebound when things don’t go as she had hoped. The trampoline metaphor has a much more empowering energy. Y ou can reach for the sky rather than protect yourself from things falling from it. You can jump!

We parents can benefit from a few jumps on that trampoline from time to time. In our efforts to effectively discipline to build our child's self-esteem, we sometimes forget about our own. When you really think about it, fostering respect and appreciation in our relationships – especially those with our children – begins with fostering respect and appreciation in our relationship with our self.

For parents who wish to discipline for high self-esteem: Listen more and monitor your tone of voice when speaking with your children.

Trampoline for Parental Self-Esteem: Listen more to you – your body, emotions and inner dialogue – and check out the tone of voice you use in your inner dialogue. Is your body relaxed or stressed? Are you composed or upset? Is your self-talk encouraging or discouraging? Does your inner tone of voice sound respectful and appreciative or sarcastic and diminishing? You are the only one who can listen to your body, emotions and inner dialogue. There is no one else who can. It is your gift. Begin by spending five minutes each morning and evening listening to you. You deserve to be heard! After listening, care for yourself. Care for your body. Care for yourself emotionally. Become self-encouraging so that your self-talk is full of kind, caring words.

For parents who wish to discipline for high self-esteem: Give your children choices.

Trampoline for Parental Self-Esteem: Give yourself choices so that you do things because you “get to” rather than because you “have to”. You get to cook dinner or you get to say that you don’t want to cook dinner. You get to take your child to piano practice or you get to request that someone else take your child to practice because there is something you would like to do. Exercise your choices. Ask for what you want.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The world only exists in your eyes – your conception of it. You can make it as big or as small as you want to." The view from the trampoline is a big wide open sky. Come on and jump!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Building Your Child's Confidence

Many thanks to Tina Nocera, author and founder of www.ParentalWisdom.com, for this guest post, which is totally in alignment with the concepts in Redirecting Children's Behavior. High self-esteem is the result of children feeling both capable and lovable. Children learn how capable they are by doing things. Turn over to your child something that you are doing for him that he is capable of doing himself.

I've been used to my GPS constantly correcting me and requesting that I make a legal U-turn when possible; but the other day it simply didn't work. There I was, left to fend for myself.

Quite frankly I am directionally challenged, and not able to look at a map and figure out where I am or where I'm headed. At that point I realized how much dependency I put on the GPS, and now it failed me. In reality I failed myself by not having enough of a foundation to figure things out. I realized that without the GPS, I was lost.

There isn't any difference in the world of parenting. Our job is to give our children a good foundation, but it's the confidence they build in handling situations that creates one of life's most important characteristics; self reliance. Much like me without the GPS, your children will be lost without self-reliance.

Think about how we teach children to ride a two-wheeler. You put the training wheels on and then kept loosening them up little by little until they are confident enough to take the ride without any training wheels at all.

p.s. Great hint - -when you're running along side the bike, it's a great idea for you to be in rollerblades. It makes the job so much easier!

Here are some ways to make sure that you're heading in the right direction in teaching self-reliance (no pun intended):

1. Let the kids make some decisions as early as possible. So what if they're wearing stripes and polka-dots?

2. Demonstrate that you are always solving little problems and learning along the way. Aren't you? After all, who figured out how to install the new TV?

3. Move from being 'the all wise and powerful' mom or dad to a coach. Tell them less about how they should do something, and instead raise questions they could answer for themselves. "Why do you think your friends responded that way?"

4. Be a great support system. They might need your encouragement to try again, or a little harder, or in taking a slightly different approach. If they come to you for permission to give up, don't make it so easy for them.

5. Responsibilities are very important for building self reliance. Even with very young children, assign chores that make them part of a family that works together. For example, for a child as young as age 3, take digital pictures of them making their bed; 1) put the pillow in place, 2) smooth the sheets and lift the blankets, and 3) lift and smooth out the comforter. Laminate the pictures and put them near the bed so they can see how well they did.