THE FOUR WORDS
A friend and I were enjoying an afternoon together. she had just given her five-year-old daughter a date, and as she gave her daughter the date, she said, “Eat this because it’s really good for your brain.”
Her words of wisdom included the exact four words you should never say to your child where his health is concerned: “It’s good for you.”
First of all, children could care less. They are too young to understand the concept of good or bad health. What they understand is whether or not what you want them to eat tastes good. If it tastes good, then they’ll be happy to eat it. If it doesn’t, then they’d prefer to pass.
Furthermore, young children do not understand the more complex actions of the body and why one food would be good for them and another one bad.
Dates, for example, contain both fiber and protein and lots of minerals and vitamins. They are high in potassium, magnesium, and they’re even high in vitamin B6. Plus, they contain antioxidants that are essential for protecting the body against cancer. But what child cares about these facts?
Dates are an amazing food, but all your child wants to know is if a date tastes good. Will it be a pleasant experience or not?
On the contrary, telling your child not to eat something because it’s bad for his health won’t help much either.
If you leave your child in a room with a box of chocolates, and you tell him not to eat the chocolates because the sugar will rot his teeth, as soon as you leave the room, he’s going to be tempted to eat a chocolate or two or three.
Who cares about the teeth?
Another common plea from parents is, “Go outside and play because the sunshine and fresh air are good for you.” If you want your child to go outside and play, forget the sunshine and fresh air; tell him to go outside and play. No explanation needed.
Children don’t go outside to play because the fresh air and sunshine are good for them; they go out to play because they love the experience of playing outdoors.
And this is exactly the point: let them enjoy the experience without putting labels on it for them. Parents give their children explanations because they think they need to, but you don’t. It’s your job to know what is good or bad for your child, not your child’s.
His job is to obey you and eat his broccoli even if he doesn’t like it and go out to play even when he’d rather watch television.
Your job is to raise him with healthy habits, so he’ll enjoy a healthy lifestyle when he’s older.
If every time you tell your child to “eat this because it’s good for you,” and you tell him what the food is good for, you’re robbing him of the experience of enjoying something for its own sake or not enjoying something for its own sake.
You also run the risk of training him to worry about every little thing he eats. Being the health-conscious person that I am, just like my friend, I used to do this to my children too, but I learned through my mistake that it wasn’t a wise thing to do.
It’s a natural tendency now with all the research we have today; every little part of life is being compartmentalized from what we eat to how we sleep and everything in between.
Yes, there are advantages to knowing so much in that we can live healthier, happier lives, but we also run the risk of living our lives like machines. Sometimes the sweet pleasures in life are more enjoyable when you know a little less.
I’m not arguing for a hedonistic lifestyle, only that maybe we should impose fewer “good’s and bad’s” when it comes to the things we want our children to do.
You’ll have better success if you focus more on the responsibility you have to raise your children with the kind of habits that support a healthy lifestyle rather than nag them with the four words you really should avoid using.
If you want to use four words try, “Because I said so,” instead, and you will find yourself pleasantly surprised.
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Elizabeth Y. Hanson combines her training in holistic medicine, “Love and Leadership” parenting coach certificate, plus 17+ years working in education to provide you with a unique approach to raising and educating your children.
A veteran homeschooler herself, she now has two successfully homeschooled children in college.