Our relationship with food is often highly-personal and, at times, complicated. For many women, they examine this relationship more closely once they become mothers. I can’t say for sure, but I’d guess it’s because our beliefs about food and our bodies are most often ingrained in us from early childhood.
So we set out to protect and nurture this relationship for our children, only to find it’s hard to escape the influence of others, even that of our closest friends and family. It can be incredibly frustrating to deal with comments about our child’s eating habits, but with a little tact and a deep breath, it’s possible to navigate these situations like a pro.
Overall, the best way to handle these comments is to remain calm, and above all, prioritize your child’s needs. Hold your boundaries and offer a direct yet polite response. Remember, most of the time people mean well and don’t realize why the comments they make can be harmful.
While it can be tough to address comments about your parenting (in any aspect!), especially to extended family, I hope the following examples help you through the next time(s) you find yourself in this situation.
“Take two more bites and then you can be done.”
Response: I’m sure you mean well, but we trust her to know how much food her body needs. She knows there won’t be any more food until the next meal. It works for us!
Reasoning: By offering this explanation you reinforce your trust in your child to know how much food their body needs. Additionally, allowing your child to decide when they’re hungry and full helps them stay in tune with their body as they grow.
“Eat your vegetables—they’re healthy for you! Not too many sweets—they’re bad for you!”
Response: I know you mean well, but we find comments like this to be unhelpful. Different foods do different things for our bodies, and we let him eat what he wants from what is served. Thanks for understanding.
Reasoning: As much as possible, try to maintain neutrality around food. There will always be outside influences labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” but assigning morality to food oftentimes leads to disordered eating behaviors.
“Eat your dinner first or no dessert!”
Response: Thanks for the concern, but we offer dessert whether she chooses to eat dinner or not, no strings attached! It works for our family.
Reasoning: Answering in this way reinforces your family’s rules for your child and also shows them you have their back. Additionally, it maintains food neutrality.
“Don’t be so picky, just eat it!”
Response: He’s actually not picky, he’s just still learning. We don’t pressure him to eat anything. He’ll get there in his own time, and honestly, sometimes people prefer different foods.
Reasoning: Responding in this way removes the power from the label of “picky” while also showing your child you respect their learning process. Also, research shows pressuring kids to eat often results in increased picky eating habits or negative attitudes toward food.
“Wow! She’s sure eating a lot!”
Response: We trust that she knows how much her body needs to eat right now. Her appetite changes from day to day, just like it does for a lot of adults. Thanks for understanding.
Reasoning: In a situation like this, the best thing you can do is reinforce your trust and love in your child. Adding in the comment about appetite helps to show your child that their eating behaviors are normal and hopefully alleviates any body image issues.