Raise your hand if you want your children to feel good in their skin — so that you don't have to worry about them having the same relationship with their body and with food that you once did, or still do.
Navigating body image can be like walking a tightrope for parents. There is a fine line between wanting to protect your kiddos from suffering with body image issues
— and wanting your kids to feel good in their bodies.
As children, we learn our parents' body beliefs through their behaviors. When my mom held her stomach after a yummy meal of mashed potatoes with butter, chops, and delicious sides, I knew she thought she shouldn't have eaten that. When my dad shook his head in disappointment at the neighbor's "fat" new bride, I knew I dare not be fat, or I would be deemed unfit for marriage (and, therefore, love).
Our body size goes hand in hand with food; many of us, who want to look a certain way, make food the enemy.
What are you teaching your kids?
It is no surprise that we are also teaching our children our own body beliefs through the labels, rules, and rewards we use regarding food — all in the name of protection. Here are some examples of messages we might share:
- Chocolate is "bad" and broccoli is "good"
- If you finish your homework, you can have a treat
- Don't eat that or you'll get chubby
In addition, the media continues to taunt us with unrealistic body images — seen as the measure of true “beauty.”
And, here’s the kicker: only five percent of Americans are naturally born with these “ideal” genetic components.
Secretly, we may want our kids to be in that five percent because we know how it feels when we are not. But the truth be told, we may be missing the point here.
These messages can hurt our kids
There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to feel good in our bodies. What's wrong is a culture saying that in order to feel good you have to be a certain body size. You can see the pain in our kids:
And sadly, the more we promote fitness, body perfection and fighting “fat,” the more we spiral into shame, exclusion, and low self-image when our bodies don’t measure up. It’s a mess.
You can teach your child about body love!
Dear parents, here are my three tips for you:
- Be a body image role model for your children. Treat your body the way you want your children to treat theirs. Have compassion for your lumps and bumps and the aging process; never comment on your body negatively.
- Don't dismiss your children's desire to feel good. If only we all could feel comfortable in our bodies! But many of us say otherwise to our children as if it shouldn’t matter to them. But it does. Try honoring their desire to feel good and find a way to gently introduce other ways they can feel good beyond their body, such as by exploring their creativity, personality and unique gifts and talents they bring to this world.
- Broaden your definition of beautiful. Ask your children what beautiful means to them. Make a list. You can start by asking these questions: What is your favorite color? What is your favorite hobby? What is something you like about someone the most (make sure it’s not a physical trait)? Write the answers down and post on their bedroom wall—now that's beautiful!
Projecting our own fears will not prevent our children from suffering — it simply ignites fear in them, too. Instead, commit to changing the way you relate to your body and the food you put in it, and be the change you want to see in your children. Dear parents, believe in yourself. You’ve got this!
Robyn Cruze, MA is National Recovery Advocate and the online community manager for Eating Recovery Center.
Reference: Wade, T. D., Keski-Rahkonen A., & Hudson J. Epidemiology of eating disorders. In M. Tsuang and M. Tohen (Eds.)