Why Our Words Matter: Lessons from a Preschool Classroom


Image Source: Vin Ganapathy

As a teacher, it is my job to protect and support my students. To make sure they are safe and healthy so that they can learn and achieve their goals. After transitioning from high school, where eating disorders were common and evident, to preschool, I thought I had left the world of disordered eating behind. But, I was wrong.

In my small class of five, I have 2 girls and 3 boys, all with special needs. All of my students eat normally – they eat breakfast and lunch at school, and enjoy an afternoon snack. They aren’t worried about what they eat or how much they eat. They don’t care about the calories or the way food makes them feel. Food either tastes yummy, or it doesn’t – that’s the extent of their food concerns.

As the school year progresses, I’ve silently watched as different adults place their food believes and disordered views on my students – the most common – the idea that females shouldn’t eat as much as males and that females shouldn’t eat very much in front of males. These adults are perpetuating views that can easily lead to disordered eating, and they are passing them on to 4 and 5 year olds.

This week, one of my girls wasn’t eating at lunch. She played with her food, picked at it a little, but mainly, she acted like a 4 year old who wasn’t hungry. Later at snack time, she ravenously ate her snack of animal crackers. One of the adults in the room commented about her behavior. She pointed out that the girl didn’t eat lunch in front of her male friend, but ate her snack while her male friend wasn’t in the room. She said that this 4 year old wanted her male friend to think she was a lady, who didn’t eat much, but that once he was out of the room, she let her true colors show.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Out of all of the logical explanations for this 4 year old not eating lunch, the thought that she was restricting for any reason was absurd to me. The student wasn’t listening, so I didn’t stop to correct the adult, but her comments made me stop and think.

Why do some people believe females should eat less than males?

Why do some people believe females should eat less than their bodies need, while in front of males?

Why is eating cast in a shameful light?

Why are we instilling these thoughts in children?

I am working to be a positive role model for my students each day. I try to display healthy eating habits. I try to let them know that eating is natural, positive, and absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. I try to show both my males and my females that eating isn’t dictated by your gender – everybody eats. Everybody needs different amounts. Everybody has to listen to their body to know what and when and how much to eat. I am trying to counteract those negative influences that are in their lives, that will probably always be in their lives.

I try to let them know that eating is natural, positive, and absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

But on a greater scale, it made me stop and think about how I might be influencing others around me. Am I being a positive or a negative influence? Are there ways I can help positively influence others by being a strong Recovery Warrior?

Our actions and words impact and influence those around us, whether we realize it or not. If we focus on displaying positivity – positive words, positive actions, positive views about food, our bodies, etc., we can be sure to influence those around us in a positive way!


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1 Comment

  • This is a great post! It is amazing how as adults we want to impart our “food wisdom” (usually unhealthy habits we think are healthy or ones we’ve been taught or modeled to us) on kids who are likely as intuitive and healthy eaters as possible and will likely ever be. It should be the other way around. We need to learn from them..

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