Both kids and adults eat out of emotional needs. Kids may eat as a reaction to marital tension or the threat of divorce. Many kids eat to cope with stress and anxiety over performance and perfection issues. Some eat because of insecurities in peer relationships, or they feel rejected by friends. Others eat in response to any number of emotions (happy, sad, frustrated, etc.).

Because food is so easily available, it can become a way to soothe and comfort a child. Food doesn’t talk back. It makes you feel good and requires nothing but your enjoyment. Like other addictions, food can be used to numb out pain and life stress. For example, that hot fudge sundae can make a child temporarily forget that his parents are fighting with each other.

This means overeating may be learned as a way to react to emotional stress and pain. If that is the case with you or your child, you will need to change this and teach your child to cope with life in different and healthier ways. Here are a few tips.

When kids have less time to spend with parents because parents are both working or working long hours, they tend to eat out of boredom and choose foods to comfort themselves. Many latchkey kids tell me they come home, sit in front of the TV and eat. It’s a way to relax from a stressful school day. And because of safety issues, latch key kids are often told to stay in the house which limits their activity. So what do they choose to do? Eat and sit. These kids need to be redirected to other activities. You and your children can come up with a structured plan for the few hours he or she may be home with an older brother or sister after school. This is doable.

There’s an old saying, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Well, actually this isn’t true. Kids who are teased experience emotional distress. Sadly, a few of those kids may even try suicide. Teasing can be brutal like, “Hey fatso! Can you squeeze into your desk?” or more subtle like, “Do you think you should eat that pizza?” Kids can become depressed, hate their bodies and plummet in their self-esteem when teased. Parents make every effort to confront teasing when it happens and get it to stop. This is such an important area to help children not use food to soothe.

Whether it’s the bully at school or the fudge brownies at the 7-11, kids need adult help and intervention. We need to equip our children to build effective coping mechanisms to whatever stress they encounter. And it helps to teach your children to deal with life from a biblical worldview. Rejection can be replaced with unconditional love and acceptance. Balance and moderation can be achieved. Self-control is a fruit of the spirit that comes from abiding in Christ. And most of all, we serve a God who understands our emotional pain and can soothe us through His presence and prayer.


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