Raising a child with good body image in today’s society is nothing short of climbing a large mountain. In a society, where everywhere you turn promotes the newest quick fix to lose weight or surgery to change the body you can’t stand. Even when you try to shield your children from it, it can sneak up in the most unexpected places.
Just a few weeks ago, my daughter was watching me get dressed for work when she said, “Mommy, your belly is growing. You must be eating too much.” Now, my first instinct was to be hurt, but I put my ego aside because I know developmentally she was only regurgitating information she heard from somewhere else. She did not actually truly understand what she was saying. First I started with, “No I eat all different amounts of food and eat the right amount of food for my body.” See stared at me cross eyed and I dug deeper, “Why did you say that to me? Did you hear that somewhere?”
“Yes Mommy, Daddy Pig was getting a big belly because he was eating too much. Everyone told him to eat less. But Mommy, they were all laughing, but Daddy Pig wasn’t.” For those of you that aren’t familiar, I’m talking about Peppa Pig. Really? A cartoon isn’t even free from fat shaming these days? Even my 4 year old could tell it made Daddy Pig sad.
It goes without saying Peppa Pig in now banned from our television, but what happens when a child hears this kind of talk everyday? What if they grow up knowing this as normal?
Research has shown children who grow up with family members who constantly diet, body shame and restrict their eating have children more likely to diet and feel bad about their own bodies. It’s how these eating habits and behaviors are passed on from generation to generation.
If you want to prevent your child from developing poor body image follow these 4 steps:
1. Don’t Put Down Your Body
Our bodies are genetically predetermined, some of us are meant to be smaller and some of us bigger. When we try to change our genetic potential we teach our children our bodies are not good enough the way they are. Children grow up watching and mimicking us, they quickly will catch on you are unsatisfied with your own body. In turn, they learn to be unsatisfied with theirs too!
Avoid saying things like:
- Ah, I look so fat today
- I can’t stand these jiggly arms
- My butt is huge
- Do I look fat?
2. Stop Dieting
No one likes dieting. It feels bad, restrictive and uncomfortable. However, everyday millions of people embark on the journey. When children see dieting in their household it starts negative thinking towards food and maybe even guilt with eating certain foods. Think of it this way, you serve your child chicken nuggets, french fries and broccoli. All you eat is a salad and the broccoli. Children have wild imaginations, they draw conclusions. What they are actually thinking is, mom doesn’t like her body and is trying to lose weight. She won’t eat french fries so french fries must be bad for me. I shouldn’t eat french fries, but I like them. And guilt begins.
3. No Food Shaming
When you define foods as black and white and good versus bad then we set children up to feel bad about eating them. Research shows children who are restricted with their eating of high calorie, less nutrient dense food will go on to eat more of them rather than less. When children feel secure about eating a variety of food, they can eat them, enjoy them and move on.
Avoid saying thing like:
- Carb’s are bad
- You have to eat more vegetables before you can have more bread
- If you eat all your fruit, you can have dessert
- Stop eating so much Junk Food
- Are you sure you should be eating that?
- Okay, I think you have had enough
4. Never Talk About Your Child’s Weight in Front of Them
Yes, really! Children can grow up with larger or smaller bodies and learn to feel comfortable in them. That is until they are told their body isn’t right for them. You’ll notice I include both larger and smaller. You don’t know how many times I see a child who is concerned they are smaller than other kids their age too. If you have concerns about your child’s weight, ask to talk to the doctor alone about your issues or make a separate appointment.
Never make comments or allow anyone else to make comments about your child’s weight no matter what. Most parents do not go out intentionally to hurt their children or their body image, but when you feel uncomfortable about your child’s size it may be the only way to know how to deal with it. Children will learn to question if something is wrong with their body from the very beginning.
Avoid saying things like:
- Oh Jeez you don’t fit into any of your clothes anymore, what have you been eating
- You could use to skip a meal
- Are you sure you should be eating that, we have to watch your weight
If you are afraid of your child’s weight or if you are noticing body image issues starting it’s important to look at what could be getting in the way of them being confident. It could mean starting with your own feels about food and your body. If you can repair your relationship with food and your body, it can truly benefit your children too!
Thank you for reading. I would love to hear what you think? Did growing up in a household with body image issues or dieting which affected your eating? Have you been told about your weight for an long time, how has that felt? Please comment below so I can join the conversation!