I have countless memories of my Mother coming into my room, when I was young, and standing sideways in front of my mirrored closet doors, lifting up her shirt to show her belly. Sad faced, she would push it out or trace the outline with her hands or jiggle it and say “look how fat I am”.
It is no one event nor one person who had control over the negative body image that developed and carried itself throughout so many of my years, and there is not a day that goes by that I do not have a moment of self-doubt, catching myself up to my old ways, thinking about how to improve my body. But, by a landslide, the road to healing has been much more gratifying than every single negative thought I had or pound I may have dropped.
How we prevent this struggle from manifesting itself within our children is something I think about constantly. There are so many things working against us, as parents, and yet, so very very many others we can do to get a leg up on it right now.
Teaching Your Kids About Positive Body Image
- Model It: Our kids mimic us. They adopt our habits, carry our morals, feel our stress, and thrive through our strength. How you treat and talk about your body directly affects how your kids will treat and talk about theirs. Pay attention to your language and snuff out the “Mommy’s gotta loose a few pounds” talk, replacing it with “Mommy needs to get out for a run so that she can feel strong and focused” talk. Our kids are surrounded by enough negative talk, they don’t need it from us. If you aren’t feeling good about yourself, write it in your journal, confide in your adult friends, but don’t put that on your children, it will teach them to feel badly about themselves too.
- De-emphasize the Scale: The scale has become an unreliable tool in the game of weight-loss and we have given it way too much credit over the years. The scale cannot tell you how healthy you are, nor how happy you are, or confident, or funny. It cannot tell you if you’ve been getting enough vitamins or minerals, if you have diabetes, or an autoimmune condition. The scale can only provide a number. That’s it. Teaching kids to rely on a number only sets them up for disappointment and encourages the development of obsessive behaviour when it comes to dieting.
- Teach Them About Intuitive Eating: In our modern world, we are often encouraged to eat while working, in front of screens, while driving, or during a biz lunch. Our mind is elsewhere while our body tries to digest and absorb nutrients, creating a disconnect between the food and ourselves. The idea of intuitive eating is simple: tuning into the body, putting effort and energy into the preparation of our food, and eating in such a way that we are connected to our food and to our body. Sitting down at the dinner table, without distraction, giving thanks or appreciation for the food, talking about taste, and practicing taking small bites and chewing, are all good ways to integrate intuitive eating. This eating style encourages mindfulness, slow eating, appreciation, and connectedness with hunger and satiety signals.
- Teach Them About The Body: Growing up, I don’t recall learning much about the workings of the body; the intricate nature of the digestive system and the endocrine system; why it is crucial to take note of such things as chronic stomach pain, headaches, loose stools, anxiety or depression. Teaching about the body systems, what they do, why they do them, and how they all work together to create and maintain the interconnected person, is absolutely crucial to preventing body image issues. If your kids have a deeper understanding of the way the body works, they are far more likely to respect it, want to support it, and keep it strong.
- Limit Exposure to Social Media: It is everywhere. The media will have an affect on our kids, a sure thing. However, limiting their exposure (especially when they are far too young to understand subjectivism) and being careful about what they are exposed to, and when, can greatly affect their approach to the pressures of social media. If you have kids who are into pop culture or fashion, sit with them and talk about it. Show empathy towards the people who live that life and explain how different that life is from the one you live, how much pressure is involved in those careers, and how many problems are associated with living that life.
- Talk Openly: Use body language regularly and use the proper terms for body parts. Kids need to know that having a body is part of being a person and that it is ok to talk about their body and the feelings they have about/towards it. Show appreciation for the different body parts, what they help us do, what struggles we may have with them, and how to keep them strong and healthy.
- Give Them Better Language: Steer clear of words like “skinny”, “diet”, and “fat”, and use positive language, such as: healthy, strong, muscular, lean, and fit, and remind them of how hurtful the wrong words can be for them and for the kids/adults around them.
- Involve Them in The Kitchen: Kids love food. Inherently, we all do. Let’s try to keep it that way. Involving them in food: growing, meal planning, following recipes, packing lunches, making specialty desserts, and using food as medicine, are all great ways to teach your kids how to look after their bodies, while giving them some power over what they are eating.
- Support Them in Their Passions: We all have strengths and weaknesses. Supporting our kids in doing what they love, teaches them that they are allowed to love whatever they like, and that we support them in whatever that is. Try not to push your kids towards the things you like to do or want them to do. Giving kids permission to be themselves supports them in developing healthy self-esteem and confidence in their individuality.
- Allow Them To Make Decisions: There is absolutely a balance here, I get that. But if we continuously make all the decisions for our kids, it takes away their power. If they feel powerless over the control in their lives, they will find ways to become controlling over other things (like food and weight) and carry that on into adulthood. In appropriate situations, give your children the power to make choices for themselves, show them how to consider both what they want and what would be best for them.