Dear Rabbi Ross. I’m pretty sure you must have received this email many times, but I have a problem with my 9-year-old daughter. She is a huge snacker, and is constantly munching on something or another. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m worried for the future. This will catch up to her, and these days it’s very hard to find the right guy in Shidduchim. What’s the best way to let her know that she needs to be more in control of herself without coming off as a psychotic mother. TIA. NAME REDACTED – Far Rockaway.
Whoa! I’m not quite sure where to begin. To answer your first point, yes, I have received many related questions. Most of them were regarding older kids, approximately sixteen and older. Whereas I’m sure it’s important to teach your child proper eating habits at a young age, I don’t think a nine-year-old needs to be worried about Shidduchim yet, nor should you.
In my opinion, this whole “overweight” issue is being approached the wrong way. We keep focusing on telling the girls that they’re still beautiful even if they’re not a size two. That’s nice and all, but maybe we should be telling the boys that weight isn’t such a big issue. Over the past several years, many of my Talmidim who have been dating told me that the Shadchanim are the ones that bring up weight. “She’s gorgeous…. a size two!” As long as we keep emphasizing weight, it’ll continue to be an ongoing obstacle.
We’re unfortunately quite hypocritical when it comes to this issue. If we as a community really believe this is a problem, we should address it head on. I’m sure that there are many Rabbonim and therapists that can come up with a better solution, but I believe it comes down to two main points:
That being said, the letter you wrote really bothered me. I actually felt that it would look bad for you if I used your name (which you gave me permission to do), so I redacted it. Is your daughter a huge snacker? The resolution seems pretty simple. Remove the unhealthy snacks, and let her nosh on healthy ones. Fruits and vegetables are a great substitute. Your local kosher market has dozens of healthy snack alternatives – though, unfortunately, there are hundreds of “junk food” selections.
I’m not going to say you are a psychotic mother, but worrying about Shidduchim when your daughter is nine years old is a bit worrisome. She’s nine! If you even hint about marriage now, you’re doing her a tremendous disservice.
Your goal as a mother is to make her self-confident. Compliment her daily, and lead by example. Make sure she eats a healthy and filling breakfast, lunch and supper, and, when she’s in school, pack her healthy snacks. Don’t use the word “weight”, not even in a positive way. An example of what not to say is, “Wow! You are looking really slim!” I don’t think that’s an appropriate compliment. You can say, “Wow! You look really beautiful!” Subliminal messaging is very powerful, especially with younger children. If you’re hinting about weight, she’ll pick up on it.
I have received emails from parents telling me that their children are extremely heavy, and asking what to say to them. I would like to reiterate that I have no background in dealing with this issue. I would suggest speaking with a nutritionist or your doctor and coming up with a workable solution. Include your children when making decisions, this way you’re not overbearing. It’s much better for your child to hear from the doctor that he or she is overweight, than from you.
Here’s what I have gleaned from many of you over the past few years:
Dear Readers. I answered this question from a parenting perspective. Over the past few days, I received many emails requesting more information from a professional. Therefore, I sent the same question to noted author and lecturer, Dr. Rachael E. Schindler. Dr. Schindler is a psychologist and founder of “The Five Towns Diet” meals home delivery and In-house nutrition expert at Life Gym.
Dr Schindler responds.
Thank you for bringing up this important issue. While I agree with the points Rabbi Ross brought up last week, I would also emphasize that, in my practice I have found that there are two categories of young snackers. One is the “hungry group”, generally having a sugar issue (either hereditarily or because they eat too much sugar already), so they always "feel" like they are starving. The other group are those kids that are bored and eat simply because there's just too much junk food in the house that they can grab, so why not?
The difference in handling these categories is that the first can be controlled by eating healthier and less sugared foods. The other requires a greater measure of self-control, discipline and/or distraction. Part of the confounding factors are "treats" in school and at "Shabbos party". They are not so easy to get around, since "everyone" enjoys them and you don't want to be left out, or not have the best snack!
In my practice, I like to differentiate as to whether there is a biological tendency to overeat, and therefore store fat in excess, or if the problem stems from emotional or biochemical issues. Either way, it is important to model the same message for the entire family. Don't give the child who is a little heavier different food than everyone else. You may think that it's not fair to the other kids, or that maybe one of your kids even needs to gain weight. However, we are looking towards improving our habits and lifestyle. It’s better to be consistent across the board, with the entire family, so that this doesn’t come across as a "diet".
Additionally, make sure gym classes or exercise is part of your child's routine, perhaps even doing it together from a video. Look at it this way, both of you will bond and be healthier.
I also advise to read books like "Eat This, Not That", where a child is able to see examples of smart choices in picture format. To illustrate, instead of eating 4 small cookies, he can have 5 medium sized apples. It's very powerful and helps them choose wisely when they see the comparisons.
One last tip, if it's too hard on your relationship with your child and having a negative impact, then I recommend seeing a professional, such as a nutritionist. For long term results, I would suggest not limiting yourself to those that list foods that you can or can't have, or who stress measuring. Rather, the best approach is to combine medical knowhow, psychology, sound nutrition, and exercise all in one.
Thank you Dr. Schindler. Got comments? We'd love to read them!
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
A veritable “one-stop-source”, Dr. Schindler specializes in fitness, food, stomach problems, hormonal and behavioral issues for both children and adults. She can be contacted at Teichbergr@aol.com or (917) 690-5097.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.