A recent blog post from a pediatrician, which was also mentioned on the New York Times’ “Motherlode” blog, addressed the question “What do I do if my chubby kids say they are hungry?” Dr. Meeker raised some valid points in her post— it’s important to set limits on screen time and food choices and we need to provide easy access to healthy foods, among other things.
However, some of Dr. Meeker’s suggestions may mislead parents in how to talk to their children about feelings of hunger. How we talk to our kids about hunger and help them understand it is not as simple as one may think. In fact, more harm than good might happen when people charge in and take total control over a child’s hunger without considering the child’s feelings, self-esteem or how the child thinks of herself.
Firstly, it’s important that ALL children understand hunger and the reasons we eat. In her post, Dr. Meeker focused the attention of hunger in the “chubby” ones. (I hesitate to even type that word.)
This isn’t just a “chubby” kids’ issue. (Again, I cringe at typing that word.) This is an issue for all children. Not all children begin life overweight. Some have a decent metabolism and are active, but then they get older they may gain weight for many reasons like not moving enough and developing poor eating habits. Some start short and carry extra weight and then loose it after a growth spurt. Still others have physical or biological factors that contribute to their weight and size.
For all of these children, the similarity is they will experience “hunger” of some kind and need your help sorting out how to respond.
Secondly, validation of a child’s physical symptoms is important because they need to understand and respond appropriately to hunger. Among her recommendations, Dr. Meeker suggests telling the child to just let it go or learn that feeling hungry is just a part of life.