By Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE
Teaching a child the value of giving is a noble cause that has gotten a lot of interest. There are loads of great resources on the Internet about how giving builds connections, relationships and feels great! So, you are hooked. I want to teach my kid about giving. How? Learning how to give things, your attention, time and honest feedback is a lifelong skill.
Before you have a conversation with your child, reach inside and ask, “Am I caring for myself while preparing for the holiday?” If you are, congratulations! If you are not, remember this lack of self-care is also something your child is learning.
Most parents explain that they are busy, that they don’t have time, that they have so many extra activities during the season their needs are often forgotten. If you are shaking your head and thinking, “I can relate,” here is a gift that will help you and your family in so many ways. It is the gift of saying “No. Thank you.”
Before you ask, “Why would you teach a child to say ‘No. Thank you’?” Ask yourself: Is it a skill I have? Is it a skill I am using? Mindful eating talks a lot about savoring the bite, the taste. It talks about permission to eat, but it is often forgotten in the conversation that everyone needs permission to say “No. Thank you.” To food, and to other things, activities and situations.
When you have so much to say yes to, saying no is forgotten. But this doesn’t change the fact that you can’t eat everything and you don’t have to eat food simply because it is offered. You even don’t have to try food simply because it is there. You don’t have to experience every taste at a party. Mindful eating is about choice, and hopefully half (if not more) of your choices include comfort and ease in saying “No. Thank you.”
The grammar nerds that are reading have noticed the punctuation choice of a period after “No.” This means that there is more than a quick pause. “No,” as written, is a firm declination of the offer. The “Thank you” is a separate thought, offered to acknowledge the kindness behind the offer.
Try it for yourself. Say “No.” Let your voice drop at the end. Pause for one or two seconds before offering the “Thank you.”
Now lets up the ante and look at a few examples of how to send a clear intention to decline food.
You are in the break room, and someone brought in donuts. The box has been left open, so they are hard and stale. Go ahead, say “No. Thank you.” That was easy because you are not hungry, and the food choice wasn’t very tasty. You can use this skill with your child as well. If the food offered is unappealing, go ahead and practice saying “No. Thank you.” Celebrate the ability to say no, so it feels like a reward instead of deprivation. Start on the easy foods and slowly work up to more challenging situations like the ones below.
You are picking up friends at their house after work. You are not hungry, but the moment you step into the kitchen you notice the plate of brownies and temptation sets in. You want the brownies (which is normal), but you also know there will be more food at the party, and you are not physically hungry. Can you say “No. Thank you”? If you can’t, add the step of empathy. Try this: “Your brownies look wonderful! I am going to resist them because I am not hungry, and there will be loads of food at the party.” You can use this skill of adding empathy about food temptation with your child as well. “Oh, you are right. They look good!” You can ask, “Are you able to resist?” Coach the child because he/she may not realize that more choices will be available. You can also set an expectation that he/she will eat at the party. You can even see if you can save the brownie for the party.
Now for the hardest situation. You notice that you are hungry, tired and a little bit frazzled by the day. You find yourself in a food oasis, surrounded by all your favorite chips and desserts, and you can smell peppermint hot chocolate. Your head begins to swirl in a delusional food fantasy. What to do? Here is when using your ability to say no softens. You are going to make a food choice because of the delight it will bring. The key is choice because you know you can’t eat it all. It is hard to make a choice in these situations, so again, begin with self-empathy. “Man, I am so tired and frazzled by the day, it is hard to make a choice.” Now focus on what you would enjoy most. Ask, “What would make me feel the best right now?” Connect with your largest need and then make a plan to meet that need. You can use this skill with your child as well. Empathy first, then begin to advocate self-care when dealing with a very tempting situation. “John, look at this amount of crazy food! Let me help you make a choice.” Scan the situation with your child. Explain, “Let’s look at everything. Come with me and we will walk around and see what is available.” If he sees more than one food that he has to have, comfort him because mindful eating is about choosing between two wonderful things. It isn’t about restriction or deprivation, such as suggesting to a child to choose applesauce instead of apple pie. The intention is to enjoy food, and that includes enjoying a dessert.
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