“Because I said so.” Every parent has said it at least once. For some, it’s their standard way of ruling the roost. For others, it slips out despite their best intentions when they’re flustered, exhausted, or frustrated. Now a new study presented by the American Heart Association is urging parents to think twice before they let this familiar phrase pass their lips.
Researchers used the results of a parent survey to identify and categorize the parenting styles used with almost 40,000 Canadian children. The first category held those parents whose style was generally authoritarian, cold, and uncommunicative, the kind of parent who told a child exactly what to do without offering any reason or explanation. The second category was for parents who were generally affectionate, set healthy boundaries, and kept an open dialogue with their children.
When researchers compared the information about parenting styles with the children’s BMIs, they discovered that children of authoritarian parents had a roughly 30 percent greater risk of obesity. This held true regardless of the family’s income level.
“Parents should at least be aware of their parenting style. If you’re treating your child with a balance of affection and limits — these are the kids who are least likely to be obese,” explained Lisa Kakinami, Ph.D., a post-doctoral epidemiologist at McGill University in Montreal.
Why does parenting style matter? Could it be that children who are always expected to follow orders blindly never learn to listen to their own bodies for cues about when they are hungry or full? Perhaps without the understanding of why certain behaviors are healthy or unhealthy, children may be unprepared to make good decisions once they are away from their parent’s control. Alternatively, food may literally feed the rebellion in children who feel overly controlled.
Whatever the reason, it seems that parents who want to limit the chances that their child will struggle with obesity should do their best to keep the lines of communication open as they set healthy limits. The dinner table may be a good place to start the conversation, but it shouldn’t be the only place.
“Iron Fist Style of Parenting More Likely to Lead to Obese Kids” — American Heart Association
“Ruling with an iron fist could make your child pack on pounds” — American Heart Association