I bet you can imagine how shocked I was when out of the blue, my three-year-old daughter said to me, “Mom I’m Fat”. I am not entirely sure if she really even knew what she was talking about or if she was just repeating something she had heard before. Either way, it really upset me. I started questioning myself. “Did I really say I was fat out loud?” “I know I just had a baby, and I’m not back to where I want to be, but there’s no way I’d just say I’m fat in front of her.”
It seriously got me thinking and has made me so much more aware of the things I say about my body. Our children listen to every little thing we say and they even pick up on the things we don’t say. They sense insecurity, they sense unhappiness, and they can feel it. They watch what we put into our own bodies. They watch our exercise habits. And they learn from us.
A well-known study done by Common Sense Media found that more than half of girls, and about a third of boys age 6 to 8, indicate their ideal bodies are thinner than their current body. That is 6-8 years old people!! It also found that 5-8 year old children who think their moms are dissatisfied with their bodies are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their own bodies. That finding shouldn’t surprise us one bit. We know that as moms we have the single biggest impact on our children. We are their primary role model and teachers. We can teach them that contrary to what the media may tell them, they are perfect the way they are. We can teach them that putting healthy foods into our bodies is more important than being a certain size. We can teach them that our bodies are for much more than just looking good. We can talk to our children about how grateful we are for our bodies and the amazing things they allow us to do. My body created and gave birth to two precious human beings. Is that more important to me than being a certain size? Every. Single. Time. So let’s make sure our kids know that.
Here are some ideas of ways we can help our children develop a positive body image.
1. Don’t talk negatively about food. How many of us eat a doughnut and then say “Ugh why did I eat that, I’m gonna gain 10 lbs. now”. Or “Nope, I can’t eat any more food tonight because bikini season is around the corner”. Children need to grow up with a healthy relationship with food. They need us to teach them that food is about nourishing our bodies and giving them fuel to be able to do the things we want them to. Not a reward or a punishment.
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2. Refrain from talking about other people’s bodies in a negative way. It may be obvious to not call yourself fat but how often do we classify others by the way their bodies look? “Wow that girl is way too skinny.” Or “Man, that girl has such big legs”. When we talk about other people in this way, it will only make our children wonder what others are saying about their own bodies and become self-critical. It will teach them that it’s acceptable for them to talk about others in that way too. It also teaches them to judge a person by the way they look, not the kind of person they are.
3. Establish healthy eating and exercising habits. It starts with you. Having a positive body image does not mean you neglect eating healthy or exercising and just love yourself anyway. If you truly love your body, you take care of it. Your children need to know that eating healthy and exercising are not just for looking good, it’s for FEELING good. They need to see that it’s important to you and that you take care of your own body by putting good foods into it and exercising regularly. Children need exercise too. We can encourage them to be active, go to the park, go on walks, or let them participate in our own daily exercise routines.
4. Be verbal. A good way to help your kids understand how much you love and appreciate your body and what it does for you is to TELL THEM. At different ages we may say different things, but it can be as simple as “I’m so grateful I was able to go to the park and run around with you”. Or “I love my body because it made it possible for me to have you”. When we talk positively about our bodies and the amazing things it allows us to do, our kids will too.
When it comes down to it, it really does start with us. We need to lead by example. We can’t teach our children to love themselves if we don’t love ourselves. We can’t teach our children to take care of their bodies if we don’t take care of OUR bodies. It’s not always easy, and it takes work, but they need us. The world is full of resources telling them differently. Thankfully we get to make the first impression, let’s make it a good one.
How Have YOU Taught Your Kids About Positive Body Image?