Because January is all about goal-setting and trying to meet your New Year’s resolutions, I thought it was a good time to talk about body positivity in kids.
After all, the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions include some sort of health/weight loss goal (my own included!) That in and of itself isn’t an issue – but it’s the way in which we set these goals.
There are so many social factors that threaten our body image: photo-shopped models on magazines, magazines constantly pointing out the ways in which you’re not good enough, and an entire industry devoted to you being less than satisfied with how you look, so you feel like if only you had that particular product, you’d be satisfied.
As hard as it is for us as adults to navigate these waters, it’s exponentially harder for our children. They don’t have the knowledge and perspective that we have – so they feel the full force of these societal expectations, both girls and boys.
Having a positive body image is so important – not just in girls, but in boys as well. Kids with a more positive body image will:
- Have a higher self-esteem.
- Have more confidence to try new things.
- Care more about making healthy choices.
- Be more likely to avoid drugs, alcohol, and promiscuous sexual activity.
- Be less likely to develop an eating disorder.
Some more facts about body image in kids and adolescents:
- 58% of women in college feel they need to be a particular weight. (source)
- 34% of young boys and 49% of young girls have dieted. (source)
- 25% of 7-year-old girls have attempted to lose weight. (source)
- 33% of 8-12 year old boys are currently trying to lose weight. (source)
- About two thirds of adults are unhappy with the way they look. (source)
These statistics are eye-opening and troubling, but I’m not pointing them out to scare you. I just want to call attention to the fact that teaching kids to have a positive self-image is insanely important – and you, as a parent, are the best person to teach your kids how to love their body.
But how can you teach your kids to have a positive self-image?
Teach them their bodies are tools, not projects.
Encourage your kids to view their body as a tool with which master their environment, not a never-ending project. Take them hiking, swimming, etc, and help them see how amazing it is that their bodies can grow, change, and develop to do whatever they want to do, and how each time you do a particular thing it gets easier.
Our bodies are a gift. If they can run, jump, climb, and do anything they want without any physical limitations, they are blessed beyond belief. Help them to recognize what a blessing it is to be able to do the things you want, and how not everybody gets to do those things.
One great way to do this is to help them experiment with different kinds of exercise, whether they’re more interested in dancing, doing karate, rock climbing, or biking. You can explain how wonderful it is that their bodies are able to do the things they want to do.
This mindset leads right into a discussion about the myth that taking naked photos of themselves is the best way to show love and respect for their body, a la Kim Kardashian. Loving and respecting your body is taking care of it, and making sure it’s healthy enough to do the things you want to do – not giving it away on social media. (And of course, this is a topic in and of itself, but this is the CliffsNotes version :))
Focus on health.
By teaching kids that their bodies are tools, you can explain the importance of keeping it in good repair – how if they want to continue to do the things they want to do, they have to care for and maintain their bodies through exercise and good nutrition.
Explain how food works as fuel for your body, and how calories work. Talk about proper portion sizes and what happens if you eat too much, especially of empty calories. Speaking of which, take the time to explain that calories aren’t all the same: the 200 calories in a Twinkie and the 200 calories in a big salad are completely different.
Make sure they understand the nutrients they need and how they get them from food, and how important it is to moderate what you eat – not to lose weight or look like a supermodel, but to nourish their body so it’s fueled properly and stays healthy.
Watch what you say.
Your kids are watching everything you do and say – so even if you teach them these good lessons, if you’re not living them yourself, your kids are going to pick up on it.
It’s important to pay attention to how you speak about yourself and others, even if it’s not about your child, and whether it’s positive or negative.
If you look at a thin woman and say, “Wow, she looks so great!” you’re teaching your kids that appearance is important. The same goes for if you tear down others because of the way they look, even mildly. When you do either of these things, kids are going to come to understand that that’s how you and others are looking at them – which will make them look at themselves with a more critical eye.
Instead of commenting on the appearance of other people, talk about their skills and talents. Praise the things they do well to help your kids really understand that what makes you special is what you do, now how you look.
Also, watch how you speak about yourself. Personally, I never want my kids to hear me utter the phrase, “Ugh, I feel so fat today.” I won’t lie: there are times I most definitely feel that way. But that isn’t the attitude I want them to learn.
Instead, I want to be an example of using my body to live life to the fullest: being able to run, jump, and exercise as much as I’d like, enjoying a nice walk around the neighborhood, even being able to do fun things like rock climbing, snowboarding, surfing, whatever. A functioning, healthy body is an enormous blessing – and I don’t want my kids to ever think it’s okay to take that for granted.
In the society we live in, with photoshopped images and unrealistic body expectations everywhere, it’s important to be intentional about teaching body positivity to our kids.
How do you teach your kids to love their bodies?
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