How to Inspire Healthy Kids: Talking to Older Kids About Nutrition
How can we inspire our kids to want to be healthy? As parents we all too often want to impose our own ways of thinking on our children. It’s only natural that we should want them to think the way we do, follow the same religion, and be good people – as long as their definition of “good people” is the same as ours! Just like religion and how to treat other people, good nutrition really comes down to values. How highly do we value health? And how can we transmit that value to our children?
Of course there are many types of values regarding food. If you, like me, believe nutrition is an extremely high priority, then it is one of your top values. One way to help transmit this value to your child is to have a direct conversation about it with them. Explain to them what your values are and why. Ask them what they think and how highly they value health and nutrition. Listen to what they have to say, respect it, and think about it deeply.
There is, of course, a chance your kids might not agree with you. There are many responses I have heard as to why individuals might choose to continue eating unhealthy foods. If you have a reasoned response that shows you truly listened to them, they are more likely to open up to a new viewpoint. Here are some examples:
“If I give up XYZ food life will not be worth living!” But is that really true? If you suddenly became deathly allergic to it, would you still eat that food? It is easy just to live for today even though you know that some day you will regret it. But do you want to live your life with regret, even if that regret appears only in some years?
“Carpe diem! Live for today!” It’s great that you want to live in the moment – that’s something the greatest spiritual leaders of almost any religion aspire to. But living in the moment doesn’t mean living recklessly or failing to think of how your actions will impact others in the future – and your future self is included.
“I’d rather die of rich foods than be hit by a bus.” Would you really? Death from rich foods may taste good but it often involves many years of slow and painful decay. The length and quality of your life will steadily decrease. How do you think this will feel? How will this impact the people in your life who care about you?
“But XYZ tastes so good!” You’re right, it can taste very good. But lots of things that taste or feel good might not be the right thing to do. Perhaps there is a way you can have XYZ in moderation. Say, as a treat when you accomplish something or meet a big goal, or for special holidays only.
“Everything is okay in moderation.” In theory, this sounds good, but it does not always work out that way. Poison in moderation will still kill you and unhealthy food in moderation will still hurt your body, even if you can’t see it. I know our bodies are designed to deal with a certain amount of toxins and bad things, but that does not mean we should deliberately give our bodies bad things, especially when there are so many more pollutants in our daily environments than ever before in history.
“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die! There’s no guarantee that if I eat healthy I won’t get sick. I know John Doe and he ate really healthy and still got sick and died.” I also know people who were really health-conscious who still got sick and even died. Unfortunately, this is the fallacy of the personal story. We cannot rely on outliers. One, two, or even several stories are not sufficient reasons to do or not do something that flies in the face of statistical evidence. If you eat healthy, it does not guarantee good health 100% but it dramatically increases your chances of having good health. It’s sort of like crossing the street – we all know stories of someone who crossed without looking and made it safely to the other side; we all know stories of someone who looked both ways before crossing and still got hit; regardless, looking both ways before crossing the street will still dramatically decrease your chances of being hit.
“But I thought/there is evidence that/I have an article that says that XYZ is really healthy.” Wow, it is great that you are looking into this stuff! I’m so impressed that you’re taking the time to listen to different opinions and investigate. Why don’t you share your evidence with me and I’ll share mine with you? We can look at the credentials of the people who did the study, their methods, when they were done, and who funded them. This is a great opportunity for us to learn firsthand about the scientific method!
No matter what your child’s response, listen carefully and think calmly before you respond. Values transmission is strongest when there is respect all the way around.
Is it right to try to transmit your values to your child? Of course it is! In fact, that’s part of our job as parents. Parenting does involve a certain level of acceptance of our children and of course we will love them no matter what, but at the same time it is also our job to raise them in a way that they will be good people. And that means being good to themselves and taking care of themselves.
I hope these pieces of advice will help you discuss nutrition, diet, and health with your children and teenagers. If you talk to your kids about diet, please share in the comments the ways you have found work.