Healthy Growth

Principles for Supporting Healthy Growth

There are some key principles for supporting healthy growth in children by helping them to be competent, independent eaters while minimising the risk of developing disordered eating. Our own beliefs and habits may mean some of these are challenging at first, but by continuing to work at them it will become easier and the benefits will be worth it.

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Do Avoid
Take a whole-family approach
The last thing we want is for the child you are concerned about to be ‘singled out’ or feel that there’s something ‘wrong’ with them. Any changes should be made by the whole family. Identify positive changes that can be made by the whole family and everyone will benefit
Avoid weight-based language
If children hear you criticising yours or others’ bodies, they are more likely to see their own bodies in a negative way. Ultimately, we want our body to function in a way that allows us to do what we want to do each day. Keep your language about bodies positive and focus on how we can help our body to stay healthy and strong.
Focus on changing eating & activity habits, rather than weight
The most positive contribution we can make to our children’s growth is to support them in establishing eating and activity patterns for healthy growth. Keeping the focus on developing these habits is the priority for supporting their growth.
Avoid classifying foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’
Food and nutrition is complex and classifying certain food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is problematic and more likely to be associated with feelings of guilt when eating the so-called ‘bad’ foods. Instead keep the foods you want children to eat regularly in the house and have other foods when you are out or buy them for special occasions.
Allow your child to respond to their natural hunger cues
Responding to hunger cues is essential for developing healthy eating patterns and for supporting your child’s growth. If you have been trying to control the amount your child eats, it may be challenging to make the shift to trusting their hunger cues. This is an important skill for your child and your role is vital. See also: ‘How do I know if my child is eating too much or not enough?'.
Avoid using food rewards
Giving food to soothe or reward children when they are not hungry teaches them that eating is a way to reward ourselves or manage our emotions. The lesson we want to teach is that food is for fuelling our body and that hunger is what tells us how much we need to eat. Of course, it is important to acknowledge that we also eat for enjoyment and not always due to hunger, particularly at social occasions, but that this is food that is extra to what our body needs. Ideas for rewards that are not related to food are: books, pencils, notebooks, toys, clothes or a trip to the park, movies or the pool.
Set a good example
Your eating and exercise habits have a more powerful influence on your children than you might think. Be aware of the habits you are modelling as your children are likely to do the same in the long term. ‘Be the change you want to see’.
Avoid
Avoid weight-based language
If children hear you criticising yours or others’ bodies they are more likely to see their own bodies in a negative way. Ultimately, we want our body to function in a way that allows us to do what we want to do each day. Keep your language about bodies positive and focus on how we can help our body to stay healthy and strong.
Avoid classifying foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’
Food and nutrition is complex and classifying certain food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is problematic and more likely to be associated with feelings of guilt when eating the so-called ‘bad’ foods. Instead keep the foods you want children to eat regularly in the house and have other foods when you are out or buy them for special occasions.
Avoid using food rewards
Giving food to soothe or reward children when they are not hungry teaches them that eating is a way to reward ourselves or manage our emotions. The lesson we want to teach is that food is for fuelling our body and that hunger is what tells us how much we need to eat. Of course, it is important to acknowledge that we also eat for enjoyment and not always due to hunger, particularly at social occasions, but that this is food that is extra to what our body needs. Ideas for rewards that are not related to food are: books, pencils, notebooks, toys, clothes or a trip to the park, movies or the pool.
Do
Take a whole-family approach
The last thing we want is for the child you are concerned about to be ‘singled out’ or feel that there’s something ‘wrong’ with them. Any changes should be made by the whole family. Identify positive changes that can be made by the whole family and everyone will benefit
Focus on changing eating & activity habits, rather than weight
The most positive contribution we can make to our children’s growth is to support them in establishing eating and activity patterns for healthy growth. Keeping the focus on developing these habits is the priority for supporting their growth.
Allow your child to respond to their natural hunger cues
Responding to hunger cues is essential for developing healthy eating patterns and for supporting your child’s growth. If you have been trying to control the amount your child eats, it may be challenging to make the shift to trusting their hunger cues. This is an important skill for your child and your role is vital. See also: ‘How do I know if my child is eating too much or not enough?'.
Set a good example
Your eating and exercise habits have a more powerful influence on your children than you might think. Be aware of the habits you are modelling as your children are likely to do the same in the long term. ‘Be the change you want to see’.

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Further support

www.ellynsatterinstitute.org

Find an Accredited Practising Dietitian with experience in infant and child growth - https://dietitiansaustralia.org.au/find-an-apd/