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Parental Influence on Children’s Eating Habits

21 October 2013
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As with many things in life, parents have a big influence on their children when it comes to their eating habits. Researchers are now saying that a parent’s attitude and actions can increase their child’s risk of developing an eating disorder.

Nearly every parent has told their child at one time or another to clean up their plate, or has threatened punishment if the child didn’t eat. Experts are now saying this might not be the best approach. “A parent who says, ‘You’re not leaving the table until you eat that vegetable’ creates a negative atmosphere at mealtimes,” said researcher Emma Haycraft, Ph.D., of LoughboroughUniversity in the UK. “That can also teach the child to ‘override’ natural feelings of fullness.”

Parental Influence on Children's Eating Habits

Likewise, a parent’s words can also hold much power in their child’s life. A comment from a father to a pre-teen girl about how much she eats, or from a mother about her child’s clothes being tight can have negative affects. Children – even young children in today’s world – have an over-sensitivity to weight, and they internalize these comments, often with negative results.

Modeling Behavior for Children

Without knowing it, parents can also model negative behavior that is detected by children. A parent that is always concerned about their own weight or exercising routine can teach kids to place an unhealthy emphasis on these aspects of life. Even if the parent doesn’t have an eating disorder themselves, children can mistakenly overestimate their parent’s concerns about such things.

On the other hand, parents can model healthy practices regarding nutrition and weight. By eating right and focusing on healthy foods because of their benefit to the body, children will develop a desire to nourish their body with healthy food. Parents should not use food as a reward or punishment. Above all, parents should exhibit a healthy respect for their own body, teaching that beautiful people come in all different shapes and sizes, and that we should be comfortable and confident in our bodies.

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Adolescent Growth is a family owned and operated treatment center for teens aged 12-17. Since our inception we have proudly held the Gold Seal of Accreditation from the Joint Commission, an internationally recognized accreditation body. We specialize in treating teens with mental health disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse and co-occurring disorders