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Just Say No

More thoughts about food. (Can you tell it’s one of my favorite subjects? Too bad wine doesn’t have much to do with parenting, unless you overuse it!) I was talking to some moms the other day, all identities not to be revealed so as not to incriminate the innocent…or the guilty. We were talking about getting kids to eat healthy foods.
Now, I am not the best on this subject, nor am I the worst. I just took my kids out for frozen yogurt. My daughter got yogurt AND topping in a SEPARATE cup (finicky eater). My son got… nothing. He is not a sweets sort of guy, but I did nothing to take credit for. So I’m not exactly keeping my kids to a whole grain and raw vegetables sort of diet.
On the other hand, one of the moms said, “What do I do about that oatmeal with the colored dinosaurs in it? My kids demand it!”
The other moms gave advice such as, “give them a choice of food coloring to drop in normal oatmeal.”
The one thing that no one said: Just Say No.
I’ve been known to speak my mind, but my mind was wandering off and pondering various aspects of the question: First of all, where the heck did kids ever hear about instant oatmeal with dinosaurs in it? I assume from TV commercials. (We don’t watch TV at our house, so I don’t know for sure.) Second question is, what grocery store has this stuff? I’m guessing one of the few that I frequent must, but I’ve never noticed it. Perhaps it’s shelved at child eye level.
The second thing I was pondering was why I’m willing to say no and why my kids are willing to hear it. I think that’s a really complicated question. First of all, I don’t always say no. I think this is important. My kids know that they can ask for things, and that they may get them. I’m always careful to divulge my reasoning. OK, well, I admit that occasionally that time-honored phrase “Because I Said So!” has actually originated in the lizard area of my brain and popped out of my mouth. But usually I’m willing to have a rational discussion with them about what they’ve eaten, and what they should eat.
But another thing I realized is that our kids have been hearing firm “no”s about things since they were very small, and this has to do with choices that our family has made. First of all, we decided not to watch TV. That might seem like a simple thing, but it has far-reaching consequences, not all of them positive. Our kids don’t know what other kids are talking about when they talk about commercial products for kids. We don’t let our kids wear clothing with commercial logos. And we (almost) never buy food that has commercial tie-ins. According to one of my favorite organizations, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, food marketed to children is overwhelmingly unhealthy.
Kids who watch TV see the grocery store as an amusement park of the fatty, sugary, salty foods that are advertised to them. They are programmed to whine their parents into submission, and they do so. The more TV kids watch, the more likely they are to be obese. We didn’t actually decide against TV because of the commercials alone, but it’s been a great benefit that my kids haven’t noticed the oatmeal with dinosaurs. Such a thing doesn’t exist in their universe.
The other fact of our existence that makes such choices easier seems on the surface unrelated. My husband and I decided when we were talking about having children that we would raise them Jewish. Once we made that decision we stuck to it. And sticking to it has meant a lot of very firm, “no, we don’t do that”s. No, we don’t have Christmas at our house. No, the Easter bunny doesn’t come to our house. And I think that since our kids heard us say a very firm and unwavering no about one topic, it helped in a variety of ways.
Our kids have grown up knowing that our family makes some different choices than most of the families out there. So far (though I’m sure this will happen), neither of our kids has ever begged for something by saying, “But all my friends get it!” This is just an argument that doesn’t make sense in their universe. The way they see it, everyone makes their own choices and they stick to them, most of the time. When we make exceptions, it’s for a stated reason. Otherwise, we pretty much stick to our guns.
But I’m not going to sit on my soapbox and say that we’re always successful, or that it’s ever easy. A firm no makes me quake inside more often than not, wondering whether I’m making the decision based on what’s best for my child or best for me, whether I’m punishing them for something else that’s unrelated, etc. etc. Yeah, I know, I think too much!
But no is something you can practice. I suggest you try it, slowly but firmly. Say no in the grocery store, then at home. Say it with a smile! Say it followed by “I love you.” It’s hard to do, but when it matter, just say it.

Posted in Parenting.

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