Helping Children Become Healthier
By Valya Boutenko
Parents often ask me how they can make their children eat healthier. I tell them that they can’t make their children eat healthier, but they can inspire them to want to become healthier. It is not true that children don’t want to be healthy. Everyone wants to be strong, smart, and full of energy. What children are protecting themselves from when they say they don’t like healthy food, is the pressure to do what they don’t want to. If your children are revolting to the idea of health food, it means they have a will of their own. It is a sign that they want to choose for themselves, and this is a blessing.
Problems occur when we want a child to want something he or she does not want. In this case, it is important to consider what we would like the reason for the child’s action to be. Do we want our children to mindlessly obey our command and the commands of others? Do we want them to do what we tell them to out of fear of punishment? Or do we want our children to make decisions that are motivated by their own personal values?
In the words of Alfie Kohn, “Punishments and force produce only anger, defiance and a desire for revenge. They encourage power over reason, and crush delicate relationships between children and parents.” Punishments can make a child temporarily comply, but it’s unlikely that these kinds of tactics will teach children to make better decisions. When children know they will be punished for their actions, they deal with the situation in the most logical way, and begin to lie.
As Marshall B. Rosenberg writes in his book Nonviolent Communication, “I wonder whether people who proclaim the successes of punishment are aware of the countless instances of children who turn against what might be good for them simply because they choose to fight, rather than succumb, to coercion.”
So what is there to do? How can we help our children become healthy? I have noticed that children are highly susceptible to inspiration. When kids are around my brother and I, they start eating healthy things without our even mentioning raw foods. They can see for themselves how easy it is to eat good things, and how much fun it is to be healthy. As Krishnamurti once said, “To teach by example is not the best way to teach, it is the only way." As parents, grandparents, and friends, you are one of children’s greatest influences. You can inspire them to make good choices.
I think there is no difference between children and adults. Grown-ups may have more life experience, we are all living this moment for the first time. There is nothing children love more, than to be spoken to as equals. They are so intelligent, that it is often unnecessary to simplify things for them. I am frequently amazed at the depth of understanding children possess. Sometimes children have been told to sit still and be quiet so regularly, that they are not sure how to communicate their true thoughts and feelings. In these situations questions like, “How was school?” are not enough to open their hearts and let them say what they feel. It is sad for me to see how often kids are hurtled into different diets without any clue of why it is so important.
When I speak to young humans about health, I try to make it very clear why I think it is so essential to be healthy. For me, health is truly the greatest gift there could be. To be healthy means to live a life without disease. It means being youthful throughout all of my life, recovering quickly from accidents, and having plenty of energy with which to manifest my dreams. Live foods have made me more alive!
I first changed my diet when I was eight years old. In the beginning, I ate mostly fruits without many vegetables. This is common for children. Eventually, though, they do develop a taste for greens and veggies too, as I did. The most important thing to do when introducing raw foods to children, is to make it a positive experience. First impressions last forever, so it’s a good idea to present children with something yummy, like banana ice cream, or mango walnut pie. In all my ten years of eating raw foods, not once have I met a child who didn’t enjoy eating sweet fresh fruits. With some of the more difficult cases of wonderfully strong-willed children, it is sometimes necessary to leave something scrumptious on the kitchen table, and leave the room. Upon return, it is usually gone.
Communication also plays a significant role in the success of changing the dietary habits of young kids. Eating healthy can be uncomfortable in some social situations. It is vital that children have someone to talk to who understands how they feel, someone who can reassure them that they are doing the right thing. For me, it was hard to be the only one in my entire school who ate raw foods. It helped me that my parents talked to me and asked me questions such as, “What happened today that made you feel the way you do?” Together we discussed the discoveries we made each day. My mother often shared the information she read about with me.
Once, when I was in third grade, we had a pizza day. I was sitting with my friends eating my lunch of cucumbers, bell peppers, and apples, when a girl from a different class sat next to me.
“You can’t have any because you eat rabbit food!” she continued.
“I could have some if I wanted to,” I said, “but I just don’t want to.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“Because,” I said, “the bread was made out of genetically engineered wheat, sprayed with pesticides so toxic, that the people who worked with it had to wear full-body suits and gas masks. The cheese that is on your pizza could be several years old, seeing as it is likely to have come from an army reserve. The tomatoes have been picked green, placed in a refrigerator and gassed red with ethylene. And the pepperoni might be made out of a number of various animals. Personally, I have no wish to eat such a combination.”
That night, my mother got a phone call from an angry lady, who said her daughter refused to eat dinner.
It was these types of experiences that I needed to discuss with someone who understood my situation and could teach me to live more harmoniously. After countless conversations with my friends and family members, I feel comfortable with being different. Understanding that the majority is not always right has helped me to resist other social pressures. It’s important for me to eat things that make me healthy, because I remember what it’s like to be unhealthy. I understand what is true for me, and that is why it is no longer difficult for me to go to social events and interact with others. I feel that I can relate to anyone just by being human.
My dear friends, I wish you the best of luck in helping your children eat healthier.
Helping Children Become Healthier Teleconference (March 12, 2008) with Valya Boutenko
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