Last week I watched my 4 year old son open the refriderator, grab the carton of orange juice and attempt to drink directly from it. He failed and spilled the orange juice all over the floor. I didn't yell at him, not because I didnt think he deserved it, but because he saw me do the exact same thing the week before. Don't tell my wife.
As parents, our words and actions are powerful.
A recent study published online in JAMA Pediatrics titled Parent Conversations About Healthful Eating and Weight: Associations With Adolescent Disordered Eating Behaviors reminded me of the above story. The study is a cautionary note on the impact our words and behaviors have on our children. In light of the recent news about the proliferation of type 2 diabetes among young people(1 out of every 3 new cases of type 2 diabetes), I thought it would be useful to share the study and its conclusions.
The study asked the question - should parents talk to their kids about their weight?
The answer seems to be a resounding no.
At the risk of over-simplifying the study, the researchers reviewed data from 2 studies of large populations of parents and their children. Both parent and child completed surveys in school and at home from 2009 through 2010. The participants had a diverse set of backgrounds and the average age of the children and parents were approximately 14 and 42 respectively.
The researchers looked at how parents talk to their children with respect to:
They then measured the rate of unhealthy behaviors such as adolescent dieting, unhealthy weight-control behaviors and eating disorders such as binge eating.
The results, while not surprising, are pretty revealing.
Adolescent-age children whose parents talk to them about weight are more likely to experience eating disorders, poor nutrition habits and develop unhealthy relationships with food.
Overweight children of the same age whose parents discussed healthy eating behaviors were less likely to experience eating disorders and other poor nutrition related behaviors.
The message I take from this is simple. If you have an adolescent child struggling with weight or size, focus your discussions on healthy eating and do not engage in discussions about their weight or their size. If you do, you risk your child resorting to eating disorders and other unhealthy behaviors to compensate for the psychological impact of your language.
I will take it one step further. I have found that my kids follow my lead. They copy my behaviors, for better or worse. Our actions as parents carry as much weight, frankly more weight, than our words. If we want our kids to be healthy, we need to be healthy.
Do you find that your kids model their behaviors on you? I'd love to hear some examples where this is having a positive impact on your kids.