Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

Circumstantial causes of childhood obesity

Author: Michael Hawton

Choosing between apple and doughnut

The main circumstantial reason why children’s obesity is an issue is their parents’ lack of confidence to say “no” to their children. There is currently a crisis of confidence among parents in Australia. I train parenting educators all over Australia and I can tell you that many Australian parents appear to be spooked.

There are a number of reasons why this is the case, but in particular, the positive parenting movement has seen lots of parents being afraid to say no to their children. We have a whole generation of parents who have been told they always have to be positive with their children.

As a consequence, many parents are ambivalent about saying “nah-uh – you can’t have that” to their children.

What’s going on in many families is that when children ‘kick up a stink’ about not getting their own way, parents give in. They give in because they want their children ‘to be happy’ – and not risk their children’s ire.  Giving in makes the problem go away but the child learns that by objecting loudly their parents will relent – which alleviates the distress in situation.  Both win in the short term, but each get reinforced. In psychology, this is known as a reinforcement pattern.

For at least three decades now my colleagues, the behaviourists, have told all who will listen that positively connoting behaviour improves children’s ability to tolerate frustration, but this is a lie. Frustration tolerance (the ability to have an impulse but not be overcome by it) is taught to children by placing them in repeated minor discomfort that, with exposure, helps them build up a tolerance to life’s frustrations, including not having food on impulse.

Tellingly, psychiatrist, Daniel Siegel says that parents play a key role in helping children learn to operate their [mental] brakes and accelerators.

Parents can help their children learn to operate their brakes and accelerators…. If a parent cannot tolerate the tension and discomfort a child may experience when a parents sets a limit, the child will not learn to self-regulate.

Watch Shrek helping to prevent childhood obesity here

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