In a society that is completely dominated by appearance, it can be tricky when kids start making judgements about their own bodies. With both obesity and eating disorders on the rise, parents are often caught in the middle between teaching their child behaviors for living a healthy lifestyle and avoiding being too critical about weight or appearance.
Listen to Yourself
Many parents avoid making direct comments of their child’s weight or appearance, but fail to consider how their comments about their own bodies may be rubbing off on their children. “I look fat,” “I hate my stomach,” “I can’t go out looking like this” are things many of us are guilty of uttering in front of our children and in doing this, we are actually modeling how our children will see and talk about their own bodies. Try focusing on healthy behaviors, rather than commenting on appearance. For example, saying something like, “I feel great for working out today” communicates the benefits of exercise, without drawing your child’s attention to weight or appearance.
Teach Children about Their Bodies
The majority of comments a child hears about their body are focused on what their body looks like. As a parent, you can shift the focus from how their body looks to what their body does. Helping a young child understand how fruits and vegetables give our brain and muscles important fuel or reminding your teenager how calcium builds strong bones are ways parents can teach healthy lifestyle skills without reinforcing negative messages about weight. If a child asks about their weight – which unfortunately, is happening with increasing frequency – respond by focusing on the function of the child’s body. “Can your body do everything you want it to?” is an easy response that takes the attention off of weight.
Eliminate Food Rules
Counting calories, labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” or always restricting certain foods can lead a child to have unhealthy food rules. The only rule a child should learn about food is the importance of moderation. There will come a day that your child is in charge of what goes in their body and we need to teach our children how to make this decision. Being too restrictive with what a child eats can backfire when the decision-making power switches from you to your child. Help your child practice making healthy choices while you still have control over what food comes in and out of your house. Much of this is also modeled by example. Demonstrating what moderation looks like can ensure your child grows up with a balanced perspective on how to structure their diet.
Never Punish Weight
Being overweight or obese in today’s society is shaming enough without your parents making critical comments about your body or telling you that you “can’t eat that.” If you don’t want one of your children eating something, don’t bring it into your house. Punishing a child because of their weight or incentivizing them for losing weight sends the message that self-worth is directly correlated to the number of the scale. Instead, encourage and participate in healthy activities with your child.
Talking about weight in the wrong way can have a negative impact on your child’s physical and mental health for years to come. Avoid controlling what a child puts in their mouth and focus on helping them learn how to make healthy choices.