Parents who regularly punish or dismiss their children’s anxieties could be setting their kids up for obesity, warns a new study.
That’s because kids who fail to learn how to regulate their negative emotions – a skill that can be fostered by affirmative parenting – are more likely to turn to food for comfort, which can eventually lead to obesity.
That’s the overarching conclusion of a University of Illinois study, which found a connection between poor parenting skills, defined in the study as “insecure parents,” and a child’s propensity for consuming junk food.
“The study found that insecure parents were significantly more likely to respond to their children’s distress by becoming distressed themselves or dismissing their child’s emotion,” said lead author Kelly Bost.
“For example, if a child went to a birthday party and was upset because of a friend’s comment there, a dismissive parent might tell the child not to be sad, to forget about it. Or the parent might even say: Stop crying and acting like a baby or you’re never going over again.”
Instead, parents should learn to help their children describe what they’re feeling and work on problem-solving strategies with them.
Insecure parenting was also related to “comfort feeding,” as well as fewer mealtimes and more screen time, all known factors that have been linked to unhealthy eating habits and childhood obesity.
For the study, 497 parents of toddlers ages two and three were asked to answer 32 questions that gauged the nature of their relationship to the children. Parents were also asked to rate themselves on a scale that measured depression and anxiety.
They then responded to questions about how they handled their children’s negative emotions, family mealtimes, and the estimated hours of TV viewing a day.
Meanwhile, a study out of The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto released last year also found that preschool children are less likely to be obese if they live in a safe neighborhood and within walking distance of parks and retail services.