Yesterday my eight year old daughter came home from school crying. She made a snowman out of sand in a latex balloon as a craft at school, and it didn’t survive the trip home. She was pretty heartbroken.
Now, it is common for the kids to ask for a cookie when they get home from school, and it is also common for me to say yes. This happened yesterday. Then I went upstairs to write while they started working on homework. A few minutes later, a very weepy eight year old came to me and said she was so sad, she “deserved” another cookie.
Insert teachable moment here.
Insert fears about my daughter’s relationship with food.
Insert guilt about my own destructive habits to avoid feeling my feelings (i.e., fast food, donuts, flirting, etc).
Insert God’s undeniably ironic sense of humor and timing.
Insert that we learn best by teaching.
I held my crying daughter as I explained that a cookie would only maker her feel better for a few minutes. I told her that we all feel sad at times, but that all our feelings, even the sad ones, are a gift from God, and that they pass.
I told her that when we use food to avoid feeling sad, it doesn’t work. It makes us feel worse, and then it becomes a habit we can’t stop, and then we get sick.
I gave her tools for handling the sad feelings – talk to someone, ask for help to find a solution, wait, and do what we would do if we were not sad. In this case, homework.
Can I tell you how grateful I am that I could give her that comfort? Because a few years ago, I wouldn’t have had those tools. A few years ago I was so sad, I didn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning.
But someone took the time to teach me that feelings are like thunderstorms. They rage, and they pass. Sometimes a lot. But they pass with less pain if I don’t compound the pain with my own doomed attempts at avoiding them.
I cannot control whether my daughter develops an unhealthy relationship with food. I can model good behavior though. I can educate her. And I can give her healthy solutions. Even at eight, it’s up to her to make her own choice.
But just to be safe, I ate the rest of the cookies when she was asleep.