The body positive movement has taken hold within the last few years, promoting ideas surrounding shape and size inclusivity, healthy relationships with food, and self love and acceptance. With eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and depression on the rise among young people, it’s critical to safeguard your children’s mental and physical health by helping them form happy relationships with their bodies.
Teaching kids body positivity from a young age helps them create a better self image and boost their confidence. Developing a healthy relationship with food from the start can benefit them for years to come and act as a preventative measure for many mental health issues. No matter what shape or size your little one is, teaching them self love and body positivity is incredibly important.
Teach about health at any size
There’s a common misconception that all overweight people are unhealthy, which leads to fat shaming and negative media coverage of anyone slightly overweight. While maintaining a healthy body weight is important, each body is different in how it stores fat and responds to diet and exercise. Avoid talking to your kids about people’s bodies in a way that compares them to others or focuses on negative features. Pointing out how strong or how beautiful someone is creates a much more body positive approach to everyone versus bringing up how much they weigh.
It’s vital to teach your kids that health and wellness are not solely linked to weight. Health and well-being are multi-dimensional. Size is not the only determinant of having a happy or healthy life. Other aspects include physical, social, spiritual, occupational, emotional, and intellectual well-being and health. Instead of solely focusing on the diet and exercise-driven approach to health, teach your kids about the other aspects and how those are an important part of their overall well-being.
A huge part of this approach is not shaming anyone for their choices in how they approach health and wellness. When your kids encounter weight loss-focused media or promotions of diet culture, remind them working out and dieting may not be for everyone. Exercise and movement are important, just like healthy eating, but it’s not the only way to approach health and wellness. This creates an inclusive approach to how people find their happiest and most balanced lifestyle.
Develop healthy relationships with food
From a young age, parents give cues to their children about food. This comes from the way food is presented to kids, how they are made to eat or not eat, and what parents say about the food. The type of food matters less when it comes to healthy relationships with food than the way kids are taught to approach meals and mealtime. While it’s important to feed your kids healthy options, it’s also important to teach them how to navigate unhealthy choices in a healthy manner.
Many nutrition experts suggest giving kids multiple healthy choices and never forcing them to eat everything on their plates. As kids age, their palettes change and develop, so continuing to present them with healthy options instead of caving to only feeding them unhealthy choices is important. That being said, you should never force your kids to eat something they don’t want. It’s important to get them to try it repeatedly over time, but forcing kids to eat things they don’t want creates a negative association with food and mealtime. Instead, try new recipes using foods they might not have enjoyed in other preparations, or offer alternative healthy options such as broccoli versus green beans.
Another important part of food relationships is knowing when you’ve had enough to eat. As adults, you can make that decision for yourself, whereas kids sometimes are told they must finish their meal to get dessert or they aren’t allowed to leave the table until they have finished. This mindset leads kids to believe they have to finish everything, even if they are full. It’s important to avoid using food as a reward in this scenario. Forcing kids to finish all of their food not only can lead to obesity, it can also cause binge eating problems and food shame as they age. Let your kids tell you when they are full or do not want any more food. A great way to help your kids find that balance is to offer dessert or something sweet with the meal. This way, they have the choice to eat it with their food instead of it being offered as a reward, as well as preventing them from overeating.
As your kids age, teach them about the many health benefits of eating vegetables and whole grains instead of teaching them how bad something might be for them. You can do this by saying something along the lines of “carrots are amazing because they help you have healthy eyes.” Focus on what the foods can do to benefit your kids and express that to them. It’s best to avoid separating food into “good” and “bad” categories since that can lead to guilt or shame around eating. Instead, separate food into “everyday” foods that are healthy and nutritious and “sometimes” foods that shouldn’t be included with every meal. Creating “bad” foods can lead to kids hiding food, or as they age, overeating the things they were never allowed to eat because they were off limits.
Promote self love and acceptance
A huge part of body positivity is self-esteem. Feeling comfortable and confident in one’s own skin is so important for everyone, but especially kids growing up in the internet age. When kids feel good about themselves, it empowers them to try new things, be kind and empathetic, and develop new skills. The feeling of acceptance ties directly into self esteem and self love. This acceptance first comes from parents as babies become toddlers and start to develop into the little humans we love so much.
Positive self-talk is one of the main parts of self love and acceptance. Embracing what makes kids unique can help them speak more positively about themselves, both internally and to others. Teach your kids how to take negative comments and create more positive outlooks. If your child is worried about being “too nerdy,” encourage them to use their smarts to meet their goals. Rather than saying “you aren’t too nerdy” or “but nerds are cool,” help them see the positives in their nerdiness and embrace it rather than trying to sugar coat it or deny something they might feel is permanent to them. Next time they think about being “too nerdy,” they can then remember that being a “nerd” means they are smart and can accomplish so many things because of it. This type of self-talk can translate into other aspects of their lives, including self-image.
Being a role model is one of the biggest parts of this entire process. If you repeatedly put yourself down about your self image, your child grows up thinking that’s how they should treat themselves. As moms, it can be hard to find that confidence and acceptance, but even faking it a little can help you and your child develop self love. Be mindful of the way you speak about yourself in front of your children, and be aware of how your habits might be impacting them. Addressing your own feelings when it comes to food, working out, and self-talk can be a huge first step for both you and your kids.
Whether your kids are toddlers, teenagers, or somewhere in between, body positivity plays a role in their lives. Giving them the tools and support they need to feel confident and develop healthy habits can positively impact them for the rest of their lives.