How About a Hug Instead?

(I am writing this post at 4:30 AM.  I stayed overnight with my dad at the hospital because he just had surgery and my mom needed to get some sleep.  She is in the middle of radiation treatments.  There is a woman wailing in the room a few doors down, and there is a low-grade beep that I can’t find the source.  Needless to say, I can’t sleep, so I decided to write.  I hope this post is coherent.)

Dinner went as usual last night.  Elle and Crew enjoyed it and asked for seconds while Croft whined that she hated fish, took one bite of her corn on the cob, claimed she wasn’t hungry, and refused to eat anything.

As I was doing dishes Croft came in to the kitchen a few times trying to get something to snack on.  I kept saying, “Sorry, honey.  Dinner is over.  You chose not to eat.”   Every time I said, “No” to a snack tears and tantrums came.

At about attempt number three to get a snack, Croft and I had this conversation:

Croft: (crying) Can I least have some Pirate Booty to cheer me up?

(What the crap?  Where did this logic come from?)

Me: (in a silly tone) What? Food, doesn’t cheer us up.

Croft: (crying) Yes, it does.

Me: (I got down on my knees and looked her in the eye.) No honey, hugs and people and relationships cheer us up.

Croft: (still crying) No, food does.  I even saw it on TV.

Me: (confused and curious) What do you mean?

Croft: The TV said that Goldfish put a smile on your face.  So see, food cheers you up.  The TV even said so.

Me: (hugging her) No, honey. Food does not make us happy.  Sometimes it tastes really good and we like it, but real happiness comes from other places.  Let’s try a hug instead.

Croft: (still crying) Hugs don’t cheer me up.

At this point, I told her a story and played a game that my dad used to play with us when we were grouchy or sad.  Within 3 seconds and still no snack, Croft was smiling and laughing and we were hugging.

But this interesting conversation that I had with Croft brings me to the heart of this post– what lessons are we teaching our children about food?  What is food’s role in parenting?

I have been reading tons about nutrition lately and thanks to this blog, I have been evaluating what food messages I send my children.

Here is an expert from “It’s Not About Nutrition”  by Dina Rose that says the message perfectly:

“There are plenty of ways parents teach the wrong lessons around food.  It’s not just Food=Love.  There’s also Food=Comfort. Food=Reward.  Food=Guilt.  Food=Punishment.

Do any of these statements from the book Mindless Eating sound familiar?

  • “Eat this pudding, it will make you feel better.” (Food as Comfort)
  • “If you get an A on your test, we’ll go out for ice cream.” (Food as Reward)
  • “Clean your plate; children are starving in China.” (Food as Guilt)
  • “Finish your vegetables or you can’t watch T.V.” (Food as Punishment)

Kids are always going to do some emotional eating – it is unavoidable, especially as long as birthdays, Thanksgiving and grandmas exist – but consciously parenting kids around food means minimizing the times we use food as a tool.”

This is an area where I could definitely improve.

I knew it was wrong when I took my kids out to lunch when they met their math flashcard summer goals.  (Food as Reward)

And when I offered my son a snack when he was throwing a tantrum just to get him to stop.  (Food as Comfort)

Or when I said to my son you won’t get dinner until your clothes are put away.  (Food as Punishment)

All of these times I was using food to parent.

Now I am not saying that there will never be cookies and milk at my house again or that I won’t take chocolate to a sad friend.  But I am saying that I am going to be more aware of how I use food to parent and I am going to try to minimize the times that I use food as a tool.  Maybe there will be a lot more hugging at our house.

(I am still not sure Food doesn’t equal Love.  But at least I can try not use food as punishment or guilt or reward.)

Here is one final quote from Dina Rose on this issue:

“Let’s face it, food is a powerful elixir.  But parenting with food is a mistake.  Teach kids to use food to satisfy their hunger, not to soothe their needy souls.”

2 thoughts on “How About a Hug Instead?”

  1. Food for thought – pun intended. 🙂 Interesting concepts, I’m so guilty of this, especially bored in a new town knowing no one, I find myself baking more to lighten the mood around here – mainly for me. Something to think about, especially as I’m trying to potty train – treats galore (it’s his weakness). Ironically I was loving the Cinnabon Jared picked up for me yesterday. mmmmm. Comfort.

  2. Thanks for sharing this blog… Very interesting. I think I do a good job of feeding my family a variety of healthy foods – but maybe too much of it.

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