I wanted to share this email (with permission) from a former client. We had two calls a few years back addressing her concerns about nutrition and higher-than-average (but healthy) weight and appetite.
Note the contrast between anxiety and the sense of calm enjoyment.
It’s Halloween night and our whole family had such a wonderful time! Halloween is fun for our family and we are not full of anxiety. Maya and Andre (5 and 7) got home from school and into their costumes. The candy was in a huge basket by the door, but they didn’t have any because they knew they’d get some later – they didn’t beg or sneak or whine. They ate dinner and waited for friends and then ran around the neighborhood gleefully collecting candy. It was cold outside and so they were the ones who decided they had collected enough and wanted to go home. They came in and sat in front of the fire place and dumped out their candy in a huge pile. They ate some, spit some out, traded some, shared some with us, dumped the things they didn’t want back into our big basket and then packed it back into their bags and headed up to bed when we said it was time. Seriously, it was that easy. They fell asleep within a few minutes. I actually think they got more exercise tonight than they normally do on a school night. They ran and ran.
I was thinking about how this is many kids’ favorite holiday and we talked about how many adults ruin it. On the playground after school this week, I heard lots of anxious talk from parents: “What do you do about candy?” “We buy it from our kids,” “I only get natural suckers from the coop,” “We have a candy fairy come in the night who takes all the candy and leaves a toy,” “If we didn’t take the candy, our kids would be obsessed. They would never forget about it and they would eat it all.”
I am so relieved that I have a plan that works so well for us. Halloween is FUN! They kids don’t actually eat that much sugar and they feel in control and not deprived. It feels great for us as parents not to be on their case and fighting with them. It’s great to be able to avoid that power struggle altogether. I will add that part of what really helped us tonight is that at one of our last stops along our trick-or-treating route, there was a family grilling burgers and brats in the front lawn. It had been awhile since dinner and the kids gobbled them up. I’m sure that made a huge difference in how well bed-time went. It’s a great reminder that offering a balance of foods is important.
I’ll stop rambling now, but I just wanted to let you know that your hard work really does make a difference…”
How does it feel?
Responsive feeding and parenting is at it’s core (to me) about how it feels in the moment with your child and how your child reacts, whether we are talking about buying their candy, or enforcing a “no thank you” bite rule. In workshops, I ask parents to reflect:
How do you feel in this moment?
How is your child responding?
Is the dynamic bringing you closer to your child, or increasing conflict?
Is the dynamic increasing anxiety or power struggles?
Use your anxiety, worry and weariness of conflict as your guide. If there are areas you worry about, where the anxiety spoils parenting or meals, that’s an invitation to learn more, and an opportunity to find the right help. Do you really need to worry? (For example, almost all of the nutrition analyses I have seen for children where parents worried about protein intake showed children consuming more than enough protein…)
Conversely, when parents express relief, and a sense that a new approach feels good, you can trust that intuition, or at least consider it in your decision making process.
Is your current approach helping or not? What are you afraid of? What other ways could you address your worry and enjoy your kids and your family more…
Where have you learned more and worried less, with good results?