Do you ever feel bad telling your child they can’t eat the ice cream while their friends eat ice cream? Are you the mom that always says yes to placate your child and hope that food will not be an issue if you just give it to them? Well, I am the mom trying to balance both scenarios at the same time. Working in the field of eating disorders and weight management plus living in a world focused on food and weight makes me sensitive to my children’s interpretation of all of these messages. Being that is the Fourth of July, I though it would be helpful to answer so many moms’ question “Am I restricting my child when I say “no”? Of course this is a fine line, but today is a great day to get practicing since food will be plentiful at the BBQ’s you are attending.
My Answer: Saying “no” is okay. Restriction can be the equivalent of boundary setting, not deprivation. There is a difference.
For example, say your child is eating food, and you are not okay with it because they have either had enough (meaning multiple pieces) or it’s nearing a meal. If the child’s snack-time choices will affect their overall daily nutrition, you can feel free to say no. If you are at the BBQ today and your kids are grazing on the chips and salsa near the meal and you fear they will not eat the burger, you can say “finish your chips and let’s save room for dinner. Mommy wants to make sure you get some protein and vitamins or enough nutrition before the day is over.”
Parents must recognize that boundaries are just as important when thinking about food as anything else in life. For some children, it is helpful to explain that the candy or cookies are a “sometimes” food and that it may hurt their belly and or even make them feel weak or dizzy if they eat a lot at one time. If you are concerned that your child will be too full to eat their next meal, remember to explain that lunch or dinner is not far away, and it is important to eat a well-balanced meal with the rest of the family. Whatever you do though, do not label the food as “good” or “bad.”
Besides BBQ’s and family celebrations, another instance in which this may come up, as it does in my home, is after a birthday party. My boys come home with goodie bags filled with “little nothings” all the time. Almost immediately, they start tearing through the bags like it’s Halloween, and the next thing I know, we have wrappers and hyper kids everywhere.
Sometimes, my kids ignore the candy, but most times it is a frenzy of excitement, and I must put my foot down. After the boys have had one to three pieces, I simply ask them to give me their bags, and we put them on the kitchen counter, into the cookie jar or on top of the refrigerator. Typically, when something goes in the cookie jar or on the refrigerator, my kids seem to forget about it. This is consistent with the “out of sight out of mind” philosophy. It doesn’t have to go to waste either; I may then give them this food item a week later as part of their lunch or as a snack at a later date.
In this scenario, I gave my kids some but not all of the candy, setting a boundary, without restricting them altogether. (Restriction would be saying they couldn’t eat the candy today, tomorrow or ever because it is bad or because they don’t need it.) Some may choose to restrict their children from eating less nutritious foods, but research has proven over and over again that limiting a child’s intake leads to binging and obesity—especially when restricting little girls or placing them on a diet. More often than not, deprivation is not the answer. Instead, focus on moderate choices now to equip your children with the ability to make healthier choices in the long run.
If you are thinking, well what about at the BBQ, consider this: For today, you can tell your kids they can take a piece of the Fourth of July cake home for tomorrow if they want the ice cream after the dinner, rather than both if they have already consumed a crazy amount of “sometimes” foods. Or you can let the kids have the cake and ice cream just a smaller portion of each to prevent a meltdown after a long hot day. Don’t make saying yes or no a big deal! Life is not perfect and as far as parenting goes, just try your best and lead with love!!