By Whitney Blakeslee
As parents, we are trying to raise healthy kids, but sometimes we need a reminder that health is about so much more than what we see with our eyes. When it comes to how children feel about their bodies, the statistics are heartbreaking. They are learning to hate their bodies and trying to manipulate their size by dieting at increasingly younger ages. This negative body image often leads to a lifetime of dieting and a focus on appearance rather than learning new hobbies, trying sports, or feeling comfortable in their own skin. Parents should still teach children about the importance of nutritious food and exercise, but if we don’t choose our words carefully, we may put too much focus on their weight rather than their health. And this could lead to a negative self-image.
Here are some ways to teach children of all ages to have a positive body image while being physically healthy at the same time.
Be A Good Example.
“Do as I say, not as I do.” If only it were that easy! Kids and teens pay a lot more attention to what you do, wear, and say than you may realize. If your kids see that you are always starting new fad diets or you complain about being “fat,” or you pick yourself apart in the mirror, they begin to think these physical qualities determine our worth. Suddenly you have a pre-teen who is on a crash diet, which she learned about from you. If it is important for you to lose weight, please be careful how you talk about it (if at all). Saying you are trying to eat healthily is one thing, but never complain about your size or talk about food restriction. This creates a negative connotation that doesn’t help promote a positive body image with your kids. If they see you spending time playing your favorite sports, eating a variety of foods, and taking time for self-care, they will follow in your footsteps.
Promote Health, Not Weight Loss.
This idea is difficult for most adults to wrap their minds around, but health does not equal a size or “look.” Health is a state of being based on our daily habits, not a number on the scale. Do you eat a variety or vegetables? Drink plenty of water? Get enough quality sleep every night? Are you surrounded by a strong community? How do you manage stress? You can’t judge a book by its cover. Encourage these healthy habits, but also talk about happiness and mental health as a part of the equation because our mental health has a surprisingly big effect on our overall health! Don’t stress about their weight or size, and never mention changing their bodies. Instead, cook more meals at home, take family walks, let everyone discover movements they enjoy. Make sure everyone understands how important it is to take care of both body and mind.
Compliment Them On Their Personality, Determination, Or Achievements.
It is common in our culture to notice someone’s appearance, but if all we do is compliment how our kids look, they will view appearance as everything. Once you become aware of your word choices and of those around you, you will be shocked at how often we discuss subjects related to appearance. Rather than just noticing whether a child looks “pretty,” we can shift our focus to their intellect, humor, great hugs, or kindness. This promotes traits that they can actually control and nurture. It shows them that they are worthy of love and respect – regardless of appearance. Imagine what the next generation could accomplish if they didn’t spend so much time worrying about their looks!
If you would like resources to learn more about how to discuss body image with your child, here are a few of my favorites:
A Mighty Girl– Features suggestions for kids of all ages about health and wellness.
Whitney is a personal trainer and health coach in Denver where she spends her days gardening, collecting sticks and pinecones with her toddler, and soaking up as much sunshine as possible. She loves empowering women of all abilities to find their personal strength as women and mothers by lifting heavy things.
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