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Published on Tuesday, January 27, 2015
By Camile Roldán Soto
Childhood memories, for any Hispanic, most likely will include being seated at the table, surrounded by family members, and facing his grandmother or aunt, big rice spoon in hand, asking him, You want more? And indeed he will also remember that even before he could answer the question, his plate was refilled.
Maybe you don´t recall such scene, but surely you do keep other memories of special moments closely linked to culinary family rituals. This is so because Hispanics, perhaps more than people raised in other cultures, associate food with celebrating and socializing.
Hispanics think that their children and grandchildren will become hefty (in a cute way, naturally), strong, beautiful and healthy if they serve them very generous portions of the right food –whether they like or not. To feed their families is important for parents because they associate this responsibility with love. They view it as a way of showing how much they love and care for their own.
“Feeding our children is part of the role, the feeling of being parents.¨ Dr. Ailema Friguerio, a professor at University Carlos Albizu Miami, says.
In her article, ¨Mamá, no quiero más: Looking ahead in the remediation of feeding disorders in hispanic infants¨, published in the European Scientific Journal, the psychologist, who treats children, teenagers and families in her practice, studies the consequences of beliefs and attitudes about food within the Hispanic community and offers healthier alternatives.
She was interested in this subject because of her work within this community in the United States. Because of it, she became aware that there were problems within the family circle when children ¨don´t eat as much or as well or specific foods,¨ in accordance to the wishes of their parents.
These problems occur in spite of the fact that the children don´t face health problems that could raise doubts about their eating habits. In other words, they are not underweight and in fact they are well nourished. In spite of this, however, ¨parents feel frustrated, anxious and worried, feelings that the child perceives.¨
As a consequence, children also become frustrated and anxious, which creates a vicious circle that impacts the family dynamic and can have a lasting and serious negative impact.
¨One of the consequences, for example, is that the child feels he is under the control of his parents because they are forcing him to eat. He will not feel competent or in control of his own body because he doesn´t decide how much he eats or doesn´t eat and this is a source of frustration for him. This could mean that the child will want to be in control in other situations,¨ Dr. Friguerio explains.
Hispanic families also use food as a reward. This practice is not recommended, says Dr. Friguerio, because it creates an emotional bond with food. Children learn to eat in order to deal with bad experiences or negative feelings. They do this instead of talking to a friend or searching for help to learn how to express their feelings.
Health professionals could help parents deal with their worries and break the vicious circle, but Dr. Friguerio has observed that the majority of Hispanic parents are not prepared to understand the cultural context of their attitudes toward food. This situation can contribute to feelings of being ignored and left alone to deal with these problems.
¨It is very important that health professionals in the United States understand the Hispanic family and its particular ways. By doing so, they will better understand the impact of these customs on the children´s lives. It is not just a matter of saying, ´that´s nothing, it will pass.´ It is rather an opportunity for them to show more compassion and offer alternatives that will reduce the tension within the family,¨ she says.
Sitting at the table to eat together with your family is indeed a positive habit, but Dr. Friguerio says that it is important to spend time in activities not related to food. Also, love can be shown through other means that do not include eating ice cream or pizza. Some options are giving recognition for a job well done or an achievement, thanking a family member for his contribution to the well-being of the family, play with the children some of their favorite games, playing outdoors o just giving unexpected hugs. Dr. Friguerio also recommends helping the children develop good eating habits in a way that will be pleasant for them.
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