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Teach Your Kids to Beat the Body Image Blues

Positive body image in mirror

Several months ago my husband and I started using a new babysitter. She’s a high school cheerleader, and both of my children were very excited to spend time with this sophisticated “big girl.” We were excited that they eagerly anticipated her arrival so we could enjoy our date night guilt free.

Shortly after the babysitter arrived my daughter commented, “Mommy you’re thicker than ____.” The comment caught me off guard, because I rarely make comments about my appearance. In our family we talk regularly about eating a well-balanced diet, getting exercise, and living a healthy lifestyle but we don’t focus on weight.

Thankfully, I have a good sense of humor so the comment was more funny than bothersome. I responded by saying something like, “That’s true. We all have different body types and mommy’s is curvier than _____’s.”

I’ve been thinking about this conversation lately, as my kids increasingly absorb societal expectations about physical appearance. As a result, I’m becoming increasingly mindful of the messages I want my children to internalize about body image.

I want my kids to know that they should take good care of the bodies they were given. This means appreciating their body types without trying to conform to images they see in the media about what they “should” look like. They are strong and healthy and blessed, and we’re teaching them to make healthy choices related to nutrition and beyond.

I want my children to eat food from a variety of food groups and to listen to their bodies to determine when they are full. We are definitely not the family that forces our children to clean their plates. However, our children know that if they want a snack after dinner they’ll be directed back to their plates to finish what’s left before choosing something else. We remind our children regularly not to waste food and to only take what they’ll eat. This is definitely still a work in progress. We love sweets, but we emphasize the importance of eating them in moderation in the context of other well-balanced choices.

I want my children to get plenty of exercise. In this day and age when video games and social media are the go to form of entertainment for many, I want my children to spend time getting their hands and clothes dirty from playing outside. Our motto is the messier they are the more fun they must have had.

Our kids may not be as enthusiastic about getting exercise as my husband and I depending on what we have in mind, but we’re committed nonetheless. We’ve been known to try and take family walks in the evening up a pretty steep hill. On more than one occasion the excursion has resulted in a tantrum, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger or at least that’s what we try and convince our little ones!

We also promote health in our family by emphasizing the importance of sleep. I’ve always been protective of my children’s sleep, because I see how their behavior changes when they’re tired. I’m also aware of my lack of patience when they whine over seemingly trivial concerns, and there is a direct relationship between whining and fatigue in our household. To this end we wrap up screen time 30 minutes to 1 hour before bedtime, and we maintain a bedtime ritual. Our children are snug as bugs in rugs at the same time give or take a few minutes every night.

This is our recipe for beating the body image blues.

Take Away Tips
*Be aware of the language you use around body image in front of your children.
*Try not to make disparaging comments about your bodies, not even subtle ones.
*Eat well-balanced diets and get exercise.
*Emphasize health over image.

By Carmen Anderson
School Counselor
ST. MARY’S An IB World School • 7 Pursuit • Aliso Viejo, CA 92656 USA

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