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Parenting and Nutrition: I hate being the bad guy, Part 2

So I observe that even very overweight, ill people who overindulge, still pass up lots of junk food! You could have a year or two of depression where you ate everything in sight, and then, because it takes shockingly few calories to sustain fat cells, bam, you’re seriously overweight. And you could be more vigilant about your diet for years afterward, and remain obese. Losing weight is MUCH more difficult than maintaining a healthy weight is.

So it comes down to, are you willing to say no to MORE of it? 99% instead of 95%. That 4% is deadly. You know where that line is, between eating too much junk and eating just a reasonably sized treat now and then. You’ve been living in your body for a good while now so you know where that “fine line” is. (Lots of people haven’t discovered how much MORE food you can eat when you eat whole-food treats only!)

So what does this have to do with kids? Everything. THEY WILL GET THIS, the idea that their fuel impacts their life in absolutely every way. They need to understand it. We need to have lots of conversations with them about it. Taking different angles, not defaulting into mindless mantras.

Notice I said conversations. Not lectures. The difference being, we might ask a question, and then listen patiently, in between saying anything instructive. (In a minute, I’ll explain how you have to put 5 positives in the bank for every 1 instructional comment.)

What does your child think about things? One of my daughters gave me a huge compliment recently, saying (in so many words) that the reason she comes to me, rather than other people close to her, with a difficult or controversial subject, is that I listen and don’t judge her thinking and her developmental stage.

It’s not a problem to have high standards, or to talk to kids about choices, or to say NO to them. By not stocking the house with junk, by drawing a line at a party. (Even better, by modeling what WE do every day, which is pass up the vast majority of bad food in our path.)

Instead, it may be a matter of WHEN we talk about it.

Let me explain. When I was training to be a marriage therapist, I studied how one of the most well documented research findings is that stable marriages have 5 positives for every 1 negative. In other words, if you’re going to give your spouse (or child) some “tough love,” you darn well better have some currency in the bank. Your last five interactions should have been rife with love, praise, and tolerance. If you’ve done your time, you have credibility and influence.

I used to walk in my house and immediately take stock of the messes, the uncompleted chores, the people breaking well-documented rules. And I’d start verbally setting the place straight:

“Emma, why are these wet towels STILL on the kitchen floor? Pretty sure this is the fourth time I’ve asked you to take care of them! Kincade, did you pick the apples out of the tree? I don’t see them. Tennyson, turn the TV off and get out of the living room with the bowl of food, you know better!”

Sometimes just for good measure, I’d tie it all together and make myself seriously popular with a martyr trip. Something like, “When I leave, this place just goes to heck! Can’t you guys take a little pride in your own rabbit hole?”

A period of tension would follow. Usually the wet towels would still be on the floor and my oldest would be in his room instead of outside picking the apples. And we’d all be grumpy and avoiding each other.

Then I made a goal for myself: to not say ONE word of negative to anyone unless I’ve come in and first ENJOYED my children for five minutes. I’d ask them about their day, give them a hug, and listen to whatever they had to say. (I’m super lucky that way: all four of my kids talk to me a lot. But if your kid ISN’T a talker, all that much more important to not walk in barking orders, I’m thinking?)

An amazing thing happened. When I DID point out the wet towels or the bowl and spoon in the TV room, even just five minutes later, the kids were happy to get the job done or apologetic about breaking a rule.

So, it’s important to you to have your kids drink a glass of green juice every day. You are happy to make it if he’ll just drink it. After one of my Texas classes, a mom of adults told me she takes a green smoothie to her son when she wakes him up in the morning. He’s trapped there in bed, she said, and he’s happy he didn’t have to make it! LOL!

What if you were super careful about WHEN you talk to your child about good food choices? Do it only after giving him tons of love and attention about some things he’s doing well? Do it when you have lots of capital in his emotional bank account.

Don’t leave it at that. If your child’s nutrition isn’t what it should be, think what point you want to discuss next. But don’t just blurt it out, any old time.

Time it for a period you’ve got five positives on the balance sheet. And as I always say, make it relevant to your child’s interests. Will what you want her to do make her a better student, a better athlete? I’m not above pointing out how raw green food makes hair and skin prettier.

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