Measuring our love

30 Jan

I like to observe people in the supermarket, and standing in the supermarket queue usually provides me with ample opportunity to do this. Last week I saw a beautiful, chubby little girl, with dark eyes and thick curly hair; patiently waiting with her mother and grandmother.  The girl was clasping a large packet of coconut covered marshmallows and it was obvious that she really liked these marshmallows. She popped at least four or five marshmallows in her mouth while waiting for their turn at the pay point.

This incident reminded me of an article that I read in the Scientific American of January 2012; with a very graphic illustration of the hidden dangers of obesity. According to this article, the US will be home to 65 million more obese people in 2030 than it is today. Although everyone looks at the obesity figures of the US, obesity has become a worldwide phenomenon. The short article paints a chilling picture of the effect of obesity on the health of people. We know today that many devastating illnesses like cancer, depression, and  even Alzheimer’s can be triggered by obesity.

The truth of the matter is that, even if you are not overweight, an unhealthy diet and a lack of exercise could cause a myriad of ailments. Our quality of life is intimately linked to what we eat and how we live. We live in a world where rewards for good behaviour often take the form of sugary treats. Sometimes, parents’ guilt feelings also contribute towards an overabundance of sugary treats in a household. Somehow, food and toys have become the visual proof of many parents’ love. Parents are often welcomed at the preschool in the afternoon by “what did you bring me?” If we know that the long-term outcome of a poor diet is potentially harmful to our children, why do we still continue to try and prove our love and affection through sweets and toys?

In our school, we weigh and measure the children in our preschool 3 times a year. This is done for a variety of reasons, for example changes in weight and length could be used estimate if children are growing as expected. Another reason is that the measurements are used in mathematics activities – e.g. to compare growth over time and to create charts. These measurements are provided to parents on the report cards. Although we realise that weight could be a sensitive issue, it is an important part of present and future healthy lifestyle education. As children get older, the ratio between their body length and weight changes, reflecting the general tendency to grow in length and lose some of the roundness of the toddler years. Although we have an intensive physical activity programme at our school, we do see the occasional student whose body mass grows disproportionately in relation to their height.  If this increase in weight is worrisome, a teacher parent conference could be the first step towards planning healthy changes to ensure a healthy BMI.

Adults should be consciously aware that food is not the only reward system for children. Often, adults are caught up in the same vicious circle of using food as a reward. It took me a long time to realise that I use chocolates as a way to compensate myself for the stress of hard work. The reward systems instilled in children, stay with them and influence the way they look at themselves for a long time.

The question we need to ask ourselves is whether our children need us to prove our love in this way? If we see the act of raising our children as being intimately linked to the future, and their happiness and ability to adapt to the challenges of the future as an important task for us as parents, loving takes on a completely different hue. To really love our children, we not only have to feed their bodies, but also their minds and their confidence, by helping them to develop resilience.

There is so much we need to give to our children. Offhand I can think of love and care; acceptance and respect for themselves and for others; helping them to develop norms and values that will carry them through adverse circumstances; and helping them to come out of difficult times “bloodied but unbowed”. Why waste our time on sweets?

Children learn by observing and seeing what is important in their parents’ lives. Our children need time to get to know us and to see how our minds work. They need to experience that what we say is what we do. They need to see that human beings have an innate goodness and kindness that is not dependent on worldly goods. Children are very seldom fooled by possessions and presents. Of course they will take the presents and sweets, but they would rather walk with you, talk with you and be with you. If you put yourself, metaphorically speaking, on a plate next to a chocolate bar, what would be your worth in the eyes of your child?

Photo: Flickr –  http://www.flickr.com/photos/vorty/3053605311/

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