Do you hear this from your little one?
It might be dark rooms, or travelling somewhere new, or even new food (although fear is more likely to be disguised in this case by “ewww… yuck!”.
Fear is inevitable. As we grow and change, and as the world evolves, we are all confronted with uncertainty.
This past year has given us a powerful example of the illusion of normalcy. A tiny virus shuts down the world, almost overnight. Incidental social interactions, the ones we so easily take for granted, become impossible, and we realise how they grounded us in our daily life. Work that sustains our families and us has become even more tenuous.
No wonder our kids might be struggling.
We can offer comfort or reassurance. Sometimes, what’s needed more than anything is a simple hug. This can help us to reset, to remember that for most of us, most of the time, everything really is ok. We have the gifts of fresh air, clean water, shelter and food. We have never had better medical care and greater access to education.
For our children, this secure baseline offers them an opportunity to make the most of their gifts and talents and turns home into a refuge that refuels them as they encounter more and more of the outside world.
But avoiding fear is not the answer. We tend to be afraid of what we don’t already know. The unfamiliar. Challenges that call us to extend beyond ourselves. The retreat to security is a sure path to stagnation.
What if we learn to dance with fear instead?
What might this look like?
I always like to ground abstract concepts in daily life. And nothing’s more grounded, or daily, than feeding our kids!
How do we teach our kids to dance with the fear of new food? If your children are anything like mine, they would be happy to subsist on a diet of bread, apples and Weet-bix. But as parents, we know that there’s almost nothing more important than nurturing their bodies and brains with a range of nutrients that provide them with the fuel to move, learn and grow. That’s the whole point of our work: empowering you by making this as easy and convenient as possible with achieve+ junior.
But there’s much more to be done.
The food choices we make every day might seem tiny and insignificant, but much like the way a virus can shut down a planet, what we put on our plates can set our children and us on course for a lifetime of vitality and wellbeing, or lethargy, anxiety and lost potential.
Believe it or not, it can also change the course of our planet’s health.
So how do we get past the fear of new foods? How do we change from “ewww… yuck!” to “ok, I’ll try it?”.
First, we have to get our heads around the idea that it’s our responsibility to offer our children healthy, nourishing food at set times. It’s our child’s responsibility to decide how much of this they will eat. This theory is known as “self-determined eating”. It enables us to offer our children nurturing, support and encouragement. It reduces the pressure by enabling them to exercise their autonomy at mealtimes: a sure-fire way to reduce tension.
An example of this might be when our children decide they will not eat that disgusting carrot. Under. Any. Circumstances. Using self-determined eating principles, we have carried out our responsibility by offering healthy food to our hungry child. Our child is exercising their right to decide not to eat it.
We might encourage them to try it: “do you think you could take a nibble?”. Aside from this, though, we can use the encounter as an opportunity to display empathy. “I can see you don’t like it. It’s tough when you’re hungry, and you don’t much like what’s in front of you. What is it that you don’t enjoy?”. The child is heard, and the likelihood of a meltdown at the dinner table is greatly reduced.
The next step might be to ask the child to offer their opinion on other options. “I need to make sure that your body is getting everything it needs. What ideas do you have?”. Of course, your child might come back with a forcefully expressed preference for McDonald’s, but our opportunity here is to say “Unfortunately, I can’t agree to that. What else might work?”.
Together, you have opened up a conversation that acknowledges the importance of nourishing food. It offers your child an opportunity to contribute their creativity and perspective, and it also enables you as a parent to navigate challenging encounters with grace and presence. This is crucial to establishing and maintaining a trusting and loving relationship with your precious child.
Teaching our children to navigate challenging new experiences at the dinner table is, in fact, a way to teach them how to navigate the world. You are nourishing them physically and emotionally, and offering them an opportunity to practice using their voice to work towards practical and constructive solutions. From little things, big things grow. A child who is capable of this is capable of pretty much anything. You are nurturing our future.
In my next post, I’ll look at how we can present delicious, healthy food in ways that appeal to kids. It is possible to cook in a way that brings excitement back to the dinner table for adults and kids, with forethought and imagination.