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Kids, food and pleasure: What do I need to know?

Mindful eating can offer important lessons about health and pleasure, concepts children can transfer to their developing concepts of sexual health and safety.

I have a lot of great company in the world of professionals who encourage parents to speak with their kids about sex. Nonprofit organizations like Advocates for Youth  offer support as does  The American Academy of Pediatrics; even the US government recognizes the important role parents play in sexual health and safety

But many health care professionals focus almost exclusively on preventing problems, like teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections or sexual abuse. These are very important issues, but woefully one-sided. To really give our child the gift of sexual health and safety, we have to include the good stuff and one way to do that is to ensure that our kids learn to value their own pleasure.

Any parent or caretaker who has nursed or fed an infant recalls the joy of seeing the baby cooing in our arms and falling into a delightfully satisfied sleep after being fed. But sometime between the suckling infant and the awkward adolescent phases, parents forget how important it is to let our kids delight in the pleasures of their body. Promoting a healthy relationship with food as our child develops is an important way to reinforce the concepts of healthy pleasure.

The first step is paying attention to how we eat with our children, according to local expert Lynn Caesar, PhD. "We need to be eating mindfully in order to experience pleasure." said Caesar, a psychologist. "Parents can encourage this experience by slowing down life and creating a pleasurable connection with our children around food."  She adds "it takes practice, time, and commitment." Encouraging our children to savor the taste and texture of their food can encourage paying attention to all of their senses and learn to listen to their bodies own cues.

Caesar reminds us that "food can be fraught with emotions that have nothing to do with eating...guilt, anxiety, reward, or punishment." To avoid what can become maladaptive associations, she urges parents to consider the downside to using food as a tool for reward and punishment. "The road to healthy pleasure with food and family is challenging, particularly as parents are competing with children's excessive snacking with highly addictive foods that are salty, fatty, and sweet."

Sex-wise parents encourage their children to mature into sexually safe and healthy adults and healthy sensuality is fundamental. Mindful eating can offer important lessons about health and pleasure, concepts we want to see our children transfer to their developing concepts of sexual health and safety.

Rosenzweig is also author of The Sex-Wise Parent: The Parents Guide to Protecting Your Child, Strengthening Your Family and Talking to Kids about Sex, Abuse and Bullying. For more information, read her blog and follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter

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