Children are not pre-wired to eat in response to stress, it’s something they learn from their caregivers, researchers have found.
Dr. Clare Llewellyn, a researcher from University College, London, has this advice for parents:
“… try not to use food to soothe your child. When they’re upset, try to use other more positive strategies.”
Cuddling, getting down on your child’s level and talking to them about their problem are all simple comfort measures that count.
Why do these responses matter?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), data from 2015-2016 show that nearly 1 in 5 American school children and adolescents aged 6 to 19 years is obese.
In England, 22% of children are obese or overweight by the time they reach 4 or 5 years of age. And that percentage goes up to a scary 34% as the primary school years progress.
Of course, gaining excess weight can’t be blamed on one simple factor. Experts are warning though, that habits such as emotional eating don’t come naturally.
A study published by Llewellyn and her colleagues in the journal Pediatric Obesity suggests that the act of eating food to relieve negative emotions isn’t a characteristic people inherit, but rather something children learn from watching their parents.
It can become ingrained in a child, if they’re given food at a young age to soothe their feelings. Experts are classifying emotional eating as a maladaptive coping strategy that should be changed.
For tips on soothing a child without using food, click here.
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