Every parent has concerns about their children’s health. But have you considered: are grandparents making your child obese? Val Mullally discusses how to comfort an upset child, without resorting to unhealthy food habits.
I am lying in bed with my throbbing ankle propped up. I’d taken the dog for a walk – my foot found the pothole my eyes had missed – I hobbled home – and now feeling immensely sorry for myself, alone in the house. And all I want is bread and butter pudding. Not any old bread and butter pudding. My Gran’s bread and butter pudding. Bread and butter pudding is for me the ultimate comfort food.
Are Grandparents Making Your Child Obese?
Possibly grandparents are contributing to children’s weight problems. giving children unhealthy treats are one concern but I’d like to chat about how we unwittingly hook kids on Comfort Food. Like my craving for Gran’s bread and butter pudding. It’s my psychological substitute for the warm hug and loving support I need when I feel down.
But aren’t grandparents supposed to be doing the loving, calming, make-you-feel better thing? Of course they are. But what children really need, like all human beings, is loving connection. Food becomes the addictive substitute. Not any food – but the sweet, sugary food we associate with tender love and care.
What Can A Parent Do?
As the parent, you need to have a calm discussion with the grandparents about giving TLC without creating a dependence of overly sugary, high-calorie foods to feel better.
Take for example the day Betty comes home from school to her grandparents’ house. Within minutes she’s in floods of tears, sobbing because the class has just been told that their beloved teacher will be leaving them at the end of this week.
Doting Gran, in her concern for her grand-daughter, scurries to the kitchen.
She comes back with a plate laden with a gI-NOR-mous slice of rich chocolate cake.
‘Here, darling, this will make you feel better.’
The sugary chocolately goo has the desired effect as Betty stops sobbing and begins munching.
But what’s the long-term impact?
Repeated incidents of comfort food teach Betty to reach for the indulgent, sugary, fat-inducing foods whenever she feels sad.
And so the loving grandparent unwittingly opens a trapdoor that could lead to unhealthy eating, and ultimately serious life-long health challenges that they would never wish on the child they love so dearly.
Grandparents need to hear that developing their grandchildren’s habit of comfort eating could lead to diabetes, heart problems and other debilitating and life threatening health issues. Grandparents might see a ‘cuddly child’ and be unaware the child who is overweight in pre-school years is likely to have a life-long challenge with weight. What grandparent would wish ill health on their grand-children.
How to Respond to a Child’s Distress
Betty needed a loving person to hear her story, without interrupting, without trying to explain it away or tell her it’s not really so bad. She just needed her experience to be heard. And she needed someone close to empathise with her emotional pain:
“You’re feeling so sad about your teacher going. You’re really disappointed.”
When a loving person connects with Betty’s story she will ‘feel felt’, and she will be more able to contain her emotional pain. Yes, she’ll cry. That’s okay. Grandparents need to know the tears we cry when we are distressed are chemically different to the tears we cry when we peel an onion. Upset tears contain stress hormones. So there’s wisdom in the old sayings, “Have a good cry.” / “Cry it all out.”
When Gran or Grandad have listened deeply and been there for her in her tears, Betty will be able to move forward. The wise grandparent will now ask something like,
“I can see you really care about your teacher. What would you like to do to show your teacher you’re sad she’s going?”
Here’s the opportunity to provide the child with a healthy stress relief. Grandparents (and parents) need to have crayons, coloured papers, glue and suchlike always at the ready. Get her involved in something creative to give to her teacher – maybe a hand-made farewell card.
When we make art we make meaning of our lives.
Other Ways A Grandparent Can Support Grandchildren
Of course, there are other ways Grandparents can help their grandchildren deal with upset emotions. Gardening, planting our spring seedlings or raking up autumn leaves, picking flowers, walking, building a model, knitting, cooking, quilting – all take time. And time is often exactly what the child needs. Time to slow down and have someone there to hear you. Someone who listens with their whole heart. Someone to hold you. Someone to hold your thoughts and emotions. Your ups and your downs.
Grandparents can be key to helping our children develop healthier lives. Not only physically healthier but emotionally healthier.
Rather than leaving the discussion with grandparents at “Don’t give them sugary food,” tell grandparents all the ways in which you do appreciate their support of your children. Grandparents can be key to giving children what they really need, instead of the hollow sugar food substitutes that never fill the hole in a child’s soul.
Take time to affirm grandparents for all the meaningful ways in which they give your children the message, “You are precious. You are special. You are loved.”
Over to you. In what ways do you see grandparents encouraging unhealthy eating habits? What are the grandparenting qualities you most appreciate?