It is easy to think of children as inferior beings. In my early parenting years I assumed this myself. I remember how difficult it was to be a controlling mother. Fortunately, my older friends explained my mistakes to me and I was able to radically change my communication with my eldest son. I was amazed how my child quickly turned from a cranky boy into a smart and kind human being when I changed my parenting. I know firsthand that it is possible to learn to treat children as equals, and that doing so makes life for both children and parents much easier and more rewarding.
Being a professional educator, a mother of three, and a grandmother of two, I observe that many people in today’s world are controlling parents. On the other hand, there are also those who have already learned and adopted the most pleasing way of parenting, which is treating a child as an equal human being. In this new year I would like to share my experiences of parenting in my newsletters. In this issue, I give a brief overview of the correlation between the mistreatment of children and unhealthy diet.
Aristotle said that our children hold our future in their hands. Currently, we act as if we are trying to cut the branch on which we sit. Here are some statistics from respectable government agencies:
- Every year the reports of child abuse in the United States involve nearly 6 million children;
- The United States has the worst record in the industrialized world – losing more than five children every day due to abuse-related deaths;
- Over the past decade, more than 20,000 American children have been killed by their own family members – that is nearly four times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. 1
The above facts of violence are the direct outcome of viewing children as inferior beings. These sad statistics represent the worst cases of abuse. However, 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children2, and like circles on the water, it spreads onto the entire society and to a degree it becomes almost commonplace to view a child as a lesser human. In addition to the emotional and physical suffering of kids, such faulty attitudes make it difficult and often impossible to educate children to eat healthy. I have witnessed it countless times. When parents and children are truly equal, the process of adopting a healthy diet becomes smooth and easy.
When we are friends with our children they naturally follow us in most of our patterns including our eating preferences. When we make juice, they are interested to try it; when we eat salad our kids join us without any hesitation whatsoever. Children love to participate in our healthy endeavors unless they begin to feel their free choice threatened. From my own parenting experience, I learned that there can be no compromise in this area. Either our kids view us as friends, or we are the threat to their freedom. When I grew to understand this, I started telling my children that I preferred to be their friend rather than their mother. I asked them to let me know whenever I was making them feel guilty, manipulated, or controlled. At times it was challenging for me to hear their feedback, but this open communication helped us to stay equal. To my surprise, often my children prefer my company to that of their peers. We enjoy hanging out with each other. Our mutual friendship still grows to this day, and I feel respected as mother.
While observing communication techniques in many different families over the course of my life, I have noticed that parents don’t realize that they are frequently attempting to be controlling. Similarly, parents are often unaware that they are ignoring their children, which can slow down a child’s development and distort child’s perception of life. I don’t want anybody reading this article to feel guilty. Rather I am trying to help both children and parents find a more effective and peaceful way to communicate.
It could be difficult to answer each of our children’s questions, especially after a long working day or when we feel ill. With an abundance of excuses, we often minimize our communication with our children. According to one study, the time average American parents spend in meaningful conversations with their children is 3.5 minutes per week. 3
I don’t think that “meaningful conversations” would include such typical and uninteresting questions as “How are you?” or “How was the school?” to which every child answers with a habitual “Fine.” When I meet my grandkids I try asking them something provocative, such as “I was thinking all day today if dogs and cats can smile. What do you think?” or “What was the funniest moment of your day today?” Such questions always make them think and give me long and interesting answers. I would like to see every child’s question answered if only in a short way, but with a proper respect similarly to how a parent would converse with any adult.
Answering our children’s questions is similar to an investment. Or for example when we buy a house we pay a down payment, for which we must work very hard. But the down payment makes our monthly payments easier to pay. The same goes for parenting. The more attention we pay to the child during the first years of their life, the easier it will be when they will become teenagers. Consequently, your child could either become your friend, or some annoying subject you don’t even want to spend time with.
On Saturdays my two grandchildren come over and spend a couple of hours with me. We read books, paint, draw, play, and prepare lunch or snacks together. Both Nic (8) and Lily (5) love to participate in our simple cooking. In most cases they love my food. When on rare occasion they dislike it, I don’t insist on them eating it. Both kids mentioned that in my house fruits always taste we cannot make children eat healthbetter. I attribute this to my shopping at the local organic store.
So, how can we inspire our children to eat healthy? I think the fastest and easiest way is to include them in food preparation process. In the following video you may watch my grandson Nicholas making juice for his sister and himself.
The main intention of this video is not to teach how to make juice. Rather I wanted to videotape a piece of authentic conversation between my son Sergei and his nephew while juicing some fruit. We share with you a piece of our unedited family life. We didn’t coach Nic on what to say, it was a completely spontaneous episode. Sergei purposefully included all of the footage with conversations, and cut out the shots where there was no dialogue between them.
On several occasions Nic is not perfect in his actions. For example, when Nic cut the grapefruit in uneven pieces, or spilled the juice while pouring it into a cup. Sergei’s non-reprimanding reaction is a good example of allowing a child to make an error without imposing any guilt on him.
I believe that children are not stupid; there are no more fools among them than among adults. I think it is important to give children an opportunity to learn about health from their own observations and their own reasoning.
Some of my revelations about teaching children a healthy diet came from my daughter Valya when she explained to me that “we cannot make children eat healthy, but only inspire them to eat healthy.”
I think Valya’s point of view is especially valuable, as she has adopted a raw food diet at the eight years old. Now, at 26, Valya compares her own experience with her observations of other children’s struggles to eat well. She shares her breakthrough recommendations with parents.
I am happy to present a brand new video of Valya’s presentation in Michigan in December 2012. In her lecture Valya describes several key elements needed to succeed in helping parents and children to sustain a healthy diet.
This 45-minute film is now available for $9.95 for instant download
from our website:
Now is the time for our nation to awaken to how we can provide every child with an equal opportunity for healthy growth and development. Dear friends, let us raise our children in such a way, that they will be even better parents than us.
1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Administration for Children and Families,
Administration on Children, Youth and Families,
Children’s Bureau. (2011)
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.