The Art of Raising Prayer Warriors: Part 1

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

img_7925_fotorI have to admit, I hated praying. For years as a professed Christian, I spent no more than five minutes each night. Every once in a while I might do ten to fifteen minutes, but seriously, looking back at it now I realize how pitiful that was. I was far from fulfilling I Thessalonians 5:17 where it says to “Pray without ceasing.” God was still graceful and answered many of my prayers, but I came to realize that my pathetic prayer life stunted my spiritual growth in multiple ways. I was not receiving the full blessing that comes with being in communion with our heavenly Father. Even though I spent a lot of time studying the Bible, my discernment, my ability to resist temptation, and my ability to fight the spiritual battle were all weakened because I lacked a real prayer life. But through the encouragement of a friend, I have come to enjoy prayer and to seek it in ways that I had never done so before.

Early this year, I started thinking of how I could encourage my children the way my friend had encouraged me to not only pray more but to love it. I don’t want my girls to waste years missing out on something so amazingly powerful like I did. I therefore meditated on it and I discovered that a lot of the same reasons I had disliked praying were the same reasons my children did not enjoy it either. I asked God for wisdom and direction on the things that I could do encourage them to become prayer warriors and now I want to share what I learned with you in a series of blogs. This is the first one.

This first strategy is simple and straight forward. You have probably heard this shared many times, but it works and I have seen the fruit of it this past year with my girls.

Make sure they see AND hear you pray. Children learn best from watching you, especially young children. It may seem that in their multiple distractions, they don’t notice what you are doing, but they do. They don’t miss a beat and if they don’t see you praying, they will wonder why they have to do it. Both my nine-year-old and my four-year-old are quick to point out any inconsistency with the things I say and the things I do. I, therefore, know that I have to model praying behavior for them if I expect them to listen to my encouragements to pray.

Just as important as it is for our kids to see us praying, it is also important for them to hear us praying. We will sometimes seek to pray in a quiet place away from the noise of our children. Or we might be tempted to quit praying when the kids interrupt us. There are certainly good reasons to do that and we do need quiet in our own personal prayer lives. However, I want to encourage you to also pray in spite of your children’s commotion. Even though it is hard for us to concentrate, it does something for them. It really does. Believe or not, they are listening.

A couple of years ago my then two-year-old was role playing with her toys. At one point in her story, one doll started praying for the others. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I was surprised because the words that came out of my child’s mouth were almost verbatim phrases she had heard me pray. Up until that point, I had not even known she had been listening, but she obviously had been.

Now I am getting to enjoy the fruits of modeling prayer for them. My four-year-old sometimes wakes up early and she will find her way to my war room (a.k.a. family room) where I pray in the mornings. She snuggles next to me. We have had enough conversations about what I am doing that she knows to try to be quiet, but many times she is not quiet. Sometimes she is asking me a million questions, but many times she is repeating everything that I say. The latter is music to my ears because I know that she is learning how to pray. And just this morning, I was praying and my older daughter was getting ready for school. She then found her way to the couch on the opposite end of me and bowed her head. There was no nagging on my part. I had not even asked her to come pray with me. She did it all on her own.

BONUS TIP: Form a prayer/play group. Yes it will be loud and yes it may be hard to concentrate but prayer is powerful in numbers. Just as important, your children will  see and hear you pray together. What a wonderful testimony for their young lives and a wonderful way for them to learn about prayer.

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Surviving Long Runs with a Toddler

Long Run CoverIf you are like me and like to run, the only way to make that happen is to tow along the baby or toddler. Running when my little girl was a baby was a lot easier because she would sleep most of the time. However, I soon found out that running with a toddler was a whole different story. They don’t sleep and they don’t like to sit still! At least mine doesn’t. It started to become frustrating for her and therefore frustrating for me.

Like most toddlers, mine is full of energy and does not like to be strapped in for extended periods of time. That did not work well when I aimed to run at least six-miles at a time while pushing 40 lbs plus the weight of the jogging stroller, making my run even longer. The temptation was there to just stick an iPad in front of her and let her watch a cartoon or play a game so that I could complete my work-out. Although I did do that once or twice, I cringed because I wanted her to enjoy being outside as much as I do. I finally found techniques that worked. I don’t always use all of them but a combination of a few of these allows both of us to get as much out of this mommy-daughter time.

FullSizeRender1. Stop to Stretch. After the first mile or two, we always stop to stretch. It is so incredibly cute to see her copy me and try to do everything I do.  I also like to add a couple of silly things such as, “Reach your hands all the way up to the sky!” or “Hop on one foot!” or “Do the wiggle!” When we stretch together, it seems as though she sees herself as part of the run and she is more likely to be calm during most of our six-mile loop if she feels that she is part of the process.

2. Have a Conversation. I often find that my little girl will sit and enjoy nature if I talk to her about it. We look for birds, search for crazy looking trees, and point out beautiful flowers. We talk about how God created them and what our favorites are of each kind. It is also a great time to practice basic skills. If I am running near the lake, we’ll identify the colors of the kayaks or count the number of bike riders that pass us by.

I know this means I can’t turn up the volume on my iPod and zone out, but I have found that if we talk for 10 minutes, she will sit on her own and enjoy the view for another 10. Then I can enjoy a song or two. But even if she does not, she get so much out of me engaging her in conversation and if I listen, I get a lot out of it too.

3. Sing Songs. Since I lack any singing genes, this may not be so enjoyable for anyone else that may be sharing the running path with me, but my toddler gets a kick out of it. Usually, she picks the songs and we have a blast with our renditions of “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star,” “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” and “Jesus Loves Me.”

4. Identify Reachable Mile Stones and Let Them Play. I really hated to stop while running mostly because I hated the feeling I got when I started running again after a long break. However, when I was running by the lake, I felt a little selfish strapping my kid in and not letting THEM enjoy being there as well. Now, during our run, we make two stops. One of them is to just throw rocks into the water. The other one is to explore one of their piers. I feel this works because if she has something to look forward to, she will sit and wait. On one occasion, I was feeling very tired and wasn’t planning on doing more than two miles. However, because she insisted on hitting one of our mile stones, I managed to run four-miles instead. My little three year old ended up being a great encouragement and helped me push myself.

If you are really hard core, and don’t want the interruption in the work out. This is a good time to do push ups, squats, or burpees while your little one runs around and burns energy.

5. Have Them Run With You. Little kids are more likely to sit still if they are tired. Sometimes, and if she is up to it, she runs along side of me. Kids are imitators and especially at that age they just want to do everything you do. She enjoys the idea of “running” just like me and I like it because I feel like I am instilling in her a love for running. After a block or two of sprints and stops and pretending that she is just too fast for me she is wore out and will remain in the jogging stroller until the end of our run.

6. Bring 2 or 3 Figurines, Small Dolls, etc. Although I will not bring the iPad, I do keep a few toys handy. It grabs her attention and she will sit in the stroller and put her imagination into high gear. It is another simple way of keeping her entertained and giving me the time to keep on trekking.

7. Bring a Healthy Snack. I tend to run mid-morning which coincides with snack time. To avoid a meltdown, I always make sure to have a good healthy snack on hand for her. It gives her yet another thing to look forward to as we make progress.

Some of you may not like the idea of having interruptions while running and you certainly can ignore that advice. I myself was very hesitant at first and it is what led to my frustrations. However, I found that I get as much of a workout with the interruptions as without them. More importantly, my toddler now looks forward to our runs instead of dreading them, and that just makes life so much easier for the both of us. .

Parenting with Grace and Truth

Grace Truth CoverDuring a small group discussion last night, I was reminded how God may at times be displeased with us and will correct us, but his acts of mercy and forgiveness are even more pronounced. This morning as I reflected on that discussion, I remembered a wonderful verse that embodies that sentiment.  John 1:17 says, “But the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ gave us truth but also gave us grace. Truth sometimes hurts, especially when it is in the context of our mistakes and failures. But in Christ’s eyes, truth does not come without the grace, the forgiveness, and the love. And that is exactly how Jesus Christ related to people. He gave them truth. He told sinners that they needed to change their ways, but at the same time he gave them grace. He loved them, forgave them, and looked past their sinful nature. Ultimately, he died for them. He died for us.

I realized this morning that that is exactly how I should approach parenting, with truth and with grace. Our children need to be told the truth when their behavior is not up to par and when they have missed the mark. Discipline is an important part of parenting to help correct their incorrect thinking. However, they also need to see grace from us. They need to know that our love is not dependent on their perfection or on how good they are, just the way God’s love is not dependent on how well we behave. It is by grace that we are saved.

I saw this play out in two different ways with my eight-year-old daughter. A few days ago I sat down with her and in my most calm tone told her that her behavior the past week needed improvement. I was actually quite proud of myself for showing extreme self control. I left her room and went downstairs to finish dinner. When my husband called her down to eat, uncharacteristically she did not answer. My husband and I looked at each other and went upstairs to find out what was going on. We found her sobbing in her room, “I am such a bad kid! I cannot do anything right!”  My husband gave me a look of, “What in the world did you tell her?” I swore to him that it wasn’t anything bad other than to point out that she needed to do better in certain areas.

My daughter does tend to be overdramatic, but we could tell that she was genuinely feeling bad about herself. Of course, we hugged her and kissed her and explained to her that it was important that she be corrected, that bad behavior would have consequences, but that by no means meant that we thought she was a bad kid. She calmed down and I believe she understood us and believed us, but it certainly made me reflect on how I could have handled that better. It also made me question whether my daughter is seeing enough grace from us her parents to know that we love her unconditionally and that reminded me of a time when I got it right.

My daughter has a chore chart that tracks her responsibilities throughout the day. One missed chore translates to money deducted from her allowance (meager as it may be). On one particular day, she neglected one of her responsibilities so I deducted a point. By the end of the day, before her daddy came home (he is the one that checks her chart each day) I told her that I was going to re-add the point she had missed. She gave me a funny look and said, “What was that for?”

“Nothing,” I said, “I was just being gracious.” (I believe that response was God inspired.)

“What is gracious?”

“Gracious comes from the word grace. Grace is unmerited favor. That means that you get something even though you did not earn it.”

“Just like Jesus died on the cross for us because he loved us even though we did not deserve it?”

“Exactly! And that is the reason that we now have eternal life.”

She had a huge smile on her face, looked at her chart, hugged me, and ran upstairs. What had once been an abstract concept, became real for her right there and then. She understood grace. She understood love.

Thinking back to the whole “bad kid” episode, I realize that after correcting her, I needed to point out all the things that make her so wonderful. Especially for my very sensitive child. I needed to balance out my chastisement so that she would also feel loved and worthy. She needed to feel grace. And that is what parenting is, a balancing act between grace and truth.

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Life Lessons From a Speech Therapist!

IMG_5384_FotorWhen my daughter was about 18 months old, her pediatrician was concerned about her lack of vocabulary. Obviously nobody was expecting her to recite Shakespeare, but my kid was not saying anything at all other than Starbucks, Mama, and Dada. Yes, embarrassingly enough, Starbucks was one of her first words, but that is another story. Anyway, he recommended she be evaluated for speech therapy.

A couple of weeks later I had three lovely women at my house evaluating my daughter not only for her speech, but also for motor and social skills. She faired well in the last two, but was lacking in the first. Since she only borderline failed the test, they pretty much left it up to me if I wanted to pursue formal speech training. Obviously, concerned that my daughter might be ruining her chances of going to a good college, I signed her up as quickly as I could.

During the first session, I expected the speech therapist to be face-to-face with my daughter helping her form words. That was not the case at all. Instead, she watched me. It was a little unnerving, but I went along with it. Towards the end of the hour, she sat me down and said, “Okay, I know what the problem is.” All I wanted to say was, “You spent most of your time looking at me! Your hardly spoke with my daughter! How could you possibly know what the problem is?” Thankfully I kept my thoughts to myself and I am glad I did. I quickly found out why she is a speech therapist and I am not.

Turns out that evaluating mom was all she needed to do to realize that I was the problem. She said to me, “Your daughter is smart. She is actually very smart. She is so smart in fact, that she has you fooled. She knows that she has no need to say anything, because before she actually has a need, you have anticipated it. With a little wimper, she has you running to her, tending to her every demand.”

I think the way she actually said it was a lot kinder but I took it like a spear to the heart. No parent wants to hear, “You are failing”, no matter how nicely they put it!  So what exactly did she suggest I do? I needed to let her be uncomfortable. I needed to force her to speak by not running to her every time I perceived a sign of distress. She wrote down a few practical things that we could work on like reading repetitive books and avoiding yes or no questions. She wanted me to ask my daughter, “Do you want juice or milk?” instead of “Do you want milk?” I quickly got the picture and I had no choice but to get to work.

It was not easy watching my daughter cry as she struggled to communicate. Okay, for me it was a cry of unbearable distress, for my husband, it was just her being whiny. Either way, my daughter learned pretty quickly. Within a few weeks, she was talking like a parrot. Even the therapist was surprised at how quickly she was progressing. To this day, my daughter is a talker and people are always surprised to find out that yes, she needed speech therapy. Or more accurately, I needed parenting therapy.

I learned a big lesson from that therapist and God bless her for it. It is a lesson I have taken to heart and let it seep into other areas of parenting. Basically, sometimes, we just need to let our kids struggle. We need to let them figure things out on their own and we can’t run to them every time they want help. It is how they grow. It is how they become independent. It is how they learn to problem solve. That is ultimately what we want right? We want our kids to soar. We don’t want our thirty-year-old kid calling us every time there is a sign of trouble. When they are two it is cute. When they are thirty it is not so cute. Bottom line?  Let them cry. Let them struggle. They will thank you for it.

(As a side note, for anyone that is interested, one of the books recommended by the speech therapist was “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle. My kids love this book and it is great. It really did help my daughter during speech therapy and also when she started reading. No to mentioned it helped her learn her colors too! There is another one similar to it and also pretty good, “Polar Bear, Polar Bear.”)

A Minister to My Family

February 051_FotorSometimes spiritual epiphanies come after a struggle. Mine came after an argument with my husband. Without getting into too many details about our disagreement, the root of the argument stemmed from my frustration that my current family situation kept me from doing “God’s work.” As I prayed to God for guidance, he kindly spoke to my heart and told me that I did have the opportunity to do His work. That work was inside my home.

In an instant, all these verses starting coming to mind. The first one was I Timothy 3:5 “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?”  Although this verse is not specifically to talking to house wives, it spoke to me. God has an expectation that His church leaders have their house in order. In the same way, how can I serve the church and further God’s kingdom, if my house is not in order?

Well, what does it mean to have your house in order? I believe that is more than just having well behaved children and a functioning family. I believe that is having a family where all its members (children and adults) are all growing in the knowledge of God and have a genuine love for the things of God. Isn’t that God’s desire, that  (I Timothy 2:4) all be saved and all come to a knowledge of the truth? Therefore, as a mother and wife, what does that mean for me?

It means that I must minister to my husband and to my children so that I Timothy 2:4 can be fulfilled in my household. That must be my first priority in God’s labor of love (I Thessalonians 1:3). Of course, that does not mean that I cannot reach out, and serve in the church, but I cannot let my guard down as far as my household is concerned.

As I write this, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a pastor with young children. He was telling me a story on how he and his wife had come to a decision to send their kids to a public school or a private Christian school. To help with that decision, he surveyed the young teens and young adults he was pastoring at the time. There were clearly some that were there at church because they had to be and others that were there because they had a genuine desire for God. He tried looking to see if the “schooling” they each had received was a common denominator in how these kids had turned out. He said it was clear to him that it did not matter whether the kids had gone to public school or christian school. The common denominator was in the relationship the parents had with their children. Parents who spent quality time teaching and ministering to their children, produced children who loved God. Parents who left that responsibility to someone else had children who did not appreciate God’s love.

It is clear that my children have one mother and my husband has one wife. I therefore need to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Sleep Victory!!

If you are a parent, you can understand the relief that you feel when your kid finally starts going to bed without any issues.  For the last six weeks, our toddler has been doing this:

My husband and I have been jumping up and down! I cannot even begin to express how excited we are. There was a lot of hard work put into getting our toddler to go to bed without a fuss and we finally have sweet victory.

When we had our first kid, by three months we were able to get her in bed for the night without a fuss.  If you read read my blog on letting babies cry it out, you will see the struggles we have had with our second child.  Yes, by three months we were able to get her to sleep through the night, but not without some crying before hand. Through her first birthday and until about six weeks ago, there was still crying involved.  Sometimes, she wouldn’t cry and sometimes she would cry only a little bit, but other times she would cry a lot.

What finally did it?  We don’t know, but I know perseverance had a lot to do with it.  We prayed for her. We have taken her to her regular chiropractic adjustments which I know helped her a lot (especially when she was still an infant). We have tried different techniques. We have been consistent with her nighttime routine.  What we have NOT done is given up on the idea that she can go to bed peaceful and happy.

And so here we are.  The day has arrived and we are thankful and joyful! If you are a parent having trouble getting your kids to go to bed, there is light at the end of the tunnel! Stay the course!

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God in School?

A recent incident with my daughter at school has reminded me of the importance of keeping the lines of communication open with our kids. I am thankful that my daughter goes to a good school and has a good teacher.  However, even in good schools, our kids will deal with a wide range of issues and we (parents) need to make every effort possible to be informed so that we can address those issues with our kids and the school if it becomes necessary.

Here is what happened.  My seven-year-old daughter loves God. We are a Christian family and we do talk about God all the time in our home. She has a friend in school that shares her views and the two of them were talking about God during recess. Two boys sat in front of them and somehow got involved in the conversation. However, those two boys do not share the same respect for God that my daughter and her friend do. They started making fun of Him.  For my daughter, it was the equivalent of making fun of me, her dad, or her little sister.  Because she was so upset, she went to talk to her teacher about it.

After the conversation with her teacher, my daughter left with a certain impression. She did not believe that she could talk about God at school anymore. My daughter’s teacher is an exceptional teacher and I do not believe that is what she meant. However, the important part is what my daughter believed about what she could and could not do and the worse part about it is that initially, she did not think it was important to tell me!!

Thankfully, I did find out several days later because my daughter and I came across the subject in a book we were reading together.  Only then did she say, “Mom, I am not allowed to talk about God at school.” I have come to realize that there is a lot that goes on at school that I do not find out until much later –if I find out about it at all, and I happen to have a very good relationship with my daughter.

You are probably now wondering how I responded to my daughter’s statement.  “Honey, if you want to talk about God with your friends all day long, you go right ahead.  No one can tell you that you can’t. Sometimes people won’t always like it. Sometimes people will make fun of it, but we must always do what we feel is right in our hearts because our rewards come from God. Also, know that your daddy and I support you and we will fight anybody and anything that gets in the way.” (Yes, the mama bear came out a little bit) Of course I also talked to the teacher and addressed it with her.  I wanted to make sure that the school did not have some sort of policy that infringed on my daughter’s first amendment rights.  Had that been the case here, this very quiet parent would become very vocal and would do everything in her power to make sure my daughter’s rights were not being trampled on.

If you are wondering what rights kids have to talk about God in school, I should tell you that they have every right. As long as they are not interrupting a lesson plan, or speaking out of turn, kids can talk about God all they want and they can tell whomever they want.  They can even bring their Bibles to school if they so desire. Believe it or not, schools and teachers have tried to discipline kids for talking about their religious beliefs and have tried to institute policies that prohibit free expression of religion.  All those policies are unconstitutional and would not stand a chance in court as students’ rights to freedom of speech/religion have been upheld by the Supreme Court.  For more information you can visit: Sharing Your Faith.

In the end, neither the school nor teacher were trying to silence my daughter.  The misunderstanding, however, led my daughter to think that she couldn’t talk about something she felt so passionate about.  Without continued conversations between with my child, it may have been months before I would have found out if at all. It was a great reminder to keep the conversations going so I can help her navigate all the issues that may arise in her life.

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A Heart to Love

Every once in awhile our kids will say something that encourages us as mothers.  They remind us that we may just be doing something right.  That despite all of our faults, and all the times we lose patience (and I have many), they are going to turn out okay.  For me, that day was yesterday.  My six-year-old angel tells me out of the blue,

“Mommy, I want to be a vet but I also want to be a nurse.  I want to travel all around the world and help people that are suffering.”

Wow!  What more can I want?  What more can I ask for?

Ever since I was 13, I was driven.  I wanted to succeed, to have a career, to be self-sufficient.  I did not want to depend on a man to buy me the things that I wanted or needed.  (Independent Women by Destiny’s Child, anyone?)  And I achieved those things.  I had a career, a great career.  I travelled around the world, met some amazing people, and did some amazing things.  And then one day, I gave it all up out of love for my family.  I just walked away.  I let God become my sufficiency and my life since then, as imperfect as it sometimes is, has been just as fulfilling and just as amazing, if not more.

So as I look at my daughter, I will encourage her to be anything she wants to be.  A vet, a nurse, an actress, an artist.  I want her to follow her dreams and I will help her in any way that I can, but what she actually chooses is irrelevant to me.  How much money she makes is irrelevant to me.  All I want from her is to know that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to, to do the best that she can, and to love.  To love God, to love others.  There is nothing more fulfilling than to give your heart to people and see their lives change because you cared.  God truly takes care of the rest.

My sweet daughter be what you want to be.  As long as you have God in your heart, and love others as you love yourself, your life will be amazing!

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Lesson in Persistence: Teaching Baby to Eat Her Veggies

When it came to learning how to eat veggies, my first child was the model kid.  She was so easy.  I followed the recommendations from the experts and introduced veggies first before bringing out the bananas and apples.  That kid ate anything I put in front of her.  She was eating strained spinach by 5 months and that was just the beginning.  Now at 6 years old, she will eat a salad for lunch or salmon with green beans for dinner.  My proudest moment was when she was served a traditional Afghani meal by some friends of ours.  My daughter, 4 years old at the time, tried everything, and gobbled up half of her adult size plate.

And then came my youngest daughter.  She is 11 months old and it has been a struggle to get this child to eat.  You wouldn’t think it since my little chunky monkey has consistently been above 95th percentile in weight!  Yet, other than mommy’s milk, for the first 8 months, I couldn’t get her to want much of anything else.  Well, of course, if I gave her a smashed bananana she would eat that all day.

I started her out on solids just like I did her big sister by introducing vegetables first.  We started at 5 months, but she was not interested.  We tried again at 6 months and she took a little bit, but only a miniscule amount.  She seemed to be okay with the carrots and peas for awhile.  And then I introduced the fruits and forget it, she wouldn’t touch anything else.  Here, I am, the professed health nut, and my kid does not want to eat anything other than the sweet stuff!!

But, I am persistent (or maybe it is just a matter of pride).  This kid was going to eat vegetables one way or another!!  I just kept repeating to myself, “If Japanese kids can learn to eat natto (fermented beans), my kid can learn to eat vegetables.”  What did I do? I stopped giving her the bananas and apples, and tried again only offering vegetables.  She stopped eating.  Since, Lia is breastfed and since she certainly was not losing weight, I didn’t worry about it.  Every day I would offer her something, and everyday it was wasted food down the drain.  I would put the spoon to her mouth and she would just turn her head and keep her mouth closed.  I made my own baby food. I tried giving her Earth’s Best Organic.  Nothing.  I tried different flavors and combinations. Nothing.

I changed my strategy.  She seemed to like the little pieces of Ezekiel Bread (sprouted grain bread) that I would give her, so I started just putting smaller versions of our food on her tray and see what she would do with it.  She started eating!!  It turns out that her biggest problem was that she did not want to be fed.  She wanted to feed herself.  And she didn’t like smashed up food.  She wanted real food with real texture.  Who knew?

Since I don’t really cook with salt or sugar, or anything with preservatives, I pretty much just cut up whatever we are having for dinner into small pieces and let her go to town. Now that she can feed herself, she will allow me to feed her with a spoon–sometimes.  The other day we were having a salad, so I just cut up the tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers in small pieces and she ate all of them without a problem.

It was a very frustrating few months and I was very tempted to just throw in the towel and give her only fruits.  However, I knew it would be easier for me if I fought the fight now, than to try to fight it later on.  With a little bit of persistence, I figured out that it was not that she did not like vegetables, it was that she is Miss Independent.

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How to Teach Kids About Food

Me at nine years old.

With child obesity becoming such a growing problem, it is no wonder that there is a current push to teach children about food.  I think teaching kids how to eat healthier is all well and good.  However, I have also heard well-intentioned parents make the association between food and “fatness” to their children.  My personal belief is that that is harmful and unnecessary.

I was the “fat” kid growing up.  I still remember that someone had nicknamed me Miss Piggy.  I had very little self-esteem and it took many years for me to develop self-worth.  I loved food and the worst I felt about myself, the more I ate.  Eventually, I got myself together and lost all the weight. However, to this day, I still struggle to accept myself for who I am physically.  Even though I am at a very healthy weight, I still worry about being “fat.”

I do not want that for my daughters.  And that is why I work very hard as a parent to NOT associate food with fatness. As crazy as I am about my daughters eating healthy, it has little to do with my concern about them being “fat.”  My husband and I have gone as far to teach our six-year-old that you only use the word “fat” to refer to animals and never to people.  In our house, “fat” is a bad word.

So how do I teach my six-year-old about eating healthy and exercise?  I tell her the truth. Eating the right foods and exercise keeps you healthy.  And when I say healthy, that is NOT my code word for thin.  There are many thin people who are unhealthy just as there are some “chubby” people that are very healthy.  Healthy means that you are getting the appropriate nutrients through food and liquids so that your body functions optimally and fights off illness and disease.

Here are some things that I might tell my daughter:

 “Eat your blueberries because they make you smart.” (Studies have shown that blueberries have certain properties that help improve your memory)
“Your immune system are the super heroes in your body that fight off the bad guys such as colds, coughs, fevers.  Sugar makes your super heroes weak.”
“Too much sugar can ruin your teeth and then you might get cavities and the dentist may need to give you a shot to fix them.”
“Eat your salad.  The veggies in them keeps your super heroes strong.”
“Drink your milk, it keeps your bones strong.”
“Go outside and play.  All that running around will keep your heart and lungs working great.”

My daughter today.

Because we eat so many fresh fruits and vegetables and not too much of the bad stuff, it is no surprise that we are all at a healthy weight (weight for our bodies to function optimally, not some unrealistic idea of skinny).  And if the grandparents decide to give my six-year-old two pieces of chocolate cake, I don’t sweat it.  If we as a family focus on eating the right types of foods on a daily basis for the purpose of fighting off illness and disease, the secondary effect is that we will stay at a healthy weight as well.  That is the reason I believe it is unnecessary to tell kids that if you do not eat right, it will make you fat.  Because then the focus becomes on their appearance instead of the things that really matter such as their love for God, their intelligence, their kindness, their strength, and their health.  They will have enough bombardment from television, school, and their peers about their appearance that they do not need that message from home as well.

Although my daughter does notice that some people are “jolly” and others are “small” as she says it, she does not yet associate food as being the reason why they are that way.  I am sure that through school and her friends eventually she will realize that, but we hope that by that point she has developed good enough eating habits and a love for a great varieties of foods that her primary concern will be about how food affects her ability to function.  We want her to think, “I can’t have a donut because I feel a cold coming on and I want my immune system working great,” instead of “I can’t have a donut because it is going to make me fat.”

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