Because the holidays offer more opportunity for family time, this can be when parents start to notice unhealthy eating habits in their children.
Briana Sacco, M.D., Medical Director of the Center for Pediatric Eating Disorders at Children's Health℠, explains why. "When the school year is up and running, with work schedules and sports schedules and all the busy things that families do, it can be difficult to notice that your child is not eating as much as you thought they were," she says. "At the holidays, parents might notice their child isn't eating at every meal, eats less or finds ways to avoid family mealtime, all of which could be a cause for concern."
Both at holiday time and the rest of the year, Dr. Sacco offers the following recommendations for parents:
1. Check their social situations
Children who struggle with anxiety or depression, or even an eating disorder, may also struggle with social situations. Because of this, they may withdraw or isolate themselves and spend more time in their room. Parents should monitor the amount of time that their kids spend alone, especially when everyone else is at home. Isolation could be a warning sign that kids are not doing well.
2. Monitor food consumption
"Frequently we see families who come in to us that gave the responsibility to their child to pack their lunches in the morning, or they might not be checking up on them to see if they are actually eating lunch at school," Dr. Sacco says. During the school year, parents should communicate with the child's teacher or school if there is a concern that their child may not be eating enough.
3. Carve out time for family
In addition to fostering family communication, family time gives parents a daily opportunity to check in with their children and see how they are doing. Parents should also be mindful of the behaviors they model that could promote negative body image, such as discussing diets and weight loss, which many obsess over at the holidays.
Overall, Dr. Sacco says that parents should take advantage of the holidays and the new year to reset good habits and be more aware of their children's attitudes and food behaviors.
If parents are concerned that their child may be exhibiting unhealthy eating habits, review the 6 common eating disorder warning signs and find more information at Center for Pediatric Eating Disorders.
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