This holiday season, do your kids a favor. Set some rules.
Then trust your kids to work out the details.
Even young kids can do this. (And if yours can't...ask yourself, how are they ever going to learn?)
It's the only way to teach your kids the right habits for a lifetime of holiday eating.
New research confirms:
- Children as young as two can (and must!) learn to self-regulate.
- Even children who can self regulate need their parents to set some rules about food/eating.
And here's the kicker: knowing how to self-regulate isn't enough. Kids also need those rules.
Here's what the study found:
- Preschoolers who were able to self-regulate at 2 had healthy eating habits by the time they were 4, so long as their parents also set rules about the right types of foods to eat.
- On the other hand, self-regulation by itself, without parental food rules, made little difference in childrens' later eating habits.
Soda is a particular problem.
The researchers are quoted as saying:
- "We found that preschoolers whose parents had no food rules drink soda about 25 percent more than children whose parents had food rules."
- "We found that soda is pretty attractive to preschoolers, but soda cannot kill their hunger. It doesn't fill them up."
This study, conducted by researchers at the University at Buffalo, analyzed data for 8,850 children that were originally collected as part of a larger study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education.
Read more about the study here.
Some things you need to know:
- In this study, self-regulation at age 2=parental assessment of the child's ability to wait for something as well as general of irritability, fussiness and whimpering. There might be other, and even better measures of self-regulation. The point here, though, is that self-regulation isn't tied specifically to food and it still matters.
- There is mounting evidence that parenting style matters. And the parenting style here is called authoritative. It's a blend of structure and warmth/compassion.
Parenting style matters so much that focusing on parenting style alone can improve how your kids eat.
Read more about the importance of parenting styles here.
On the other hand, just implementing rules probably won't work. That parenting style is called authoritarian and it has been shown to produce a few problems.
Think rules plus choices. Or rules plus autonomy. Or rules plus trust.
The rules you set for consumption should focus on the habits you want your kids to learn.
And the good news is that there are only 3 habits that translate everything you need to know about nutrition into behavior. They're easy for kids to learn too.
- Proportion: We eat really healthy foods the most. (And by really healthy I don't mean chicken nuggets.)
- Variety: We eat different foods from meal-to-meal and from day-to-day.
- Moderation: We eat when we're hungry, and stop when we're full. And we don't eat because we're bored, sad or lonely.
Here are some rules you might consider to get you through the holidays:
- On days when there are no parties, there are no treats. (Discuss this as the principle of proportion.)
- When you're at a party, you can eat whatever you want, but it's always better to eat the treats you love, rather than the treats that happen to be available. (You'll have to tell your kids what foods are going to be available and when.) OR...
- You can have X number of treats at the party. You choose which ones and when you'll have them.
- Pay attention to your tummy. (Discuss this in terms of hunger/fullness...i.e. moderation.)
For more on this topic, read Healthy Eating for the Holidays.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~