This is a fabulous topic request. I want to dive right into helping our children have a better body image. This topic is so important to me as this is something I have worked on most of my life. This is not just for you and your daughters. This is also for your spouse and your sons. This is probably something that every single person can improve on.
I don’t want to stress you out when I tell you this, but it all begins with you. I know that sounds like a lot right there, but it couldn’t be more true. Things I say that my children hear:
“I don’t like that picture of me.”
“I don’t like how I look today.”
“I’m having a bad hair day.”
“I don’t like how this outfit looks on me.”
“I should really lose some weight.”
“I shouldn’t eat that.”
“I better go work out after eating all that food.”
“I used to have a flat stomach.”
The list goes on and on and unfortunately, I am sad to write that my kids have heard me say all these things.
The first step to changing anything is having awareness that there is an issue and I realized that this was an issue. I don’t want to teach this to my children. I want them to learn to love themselves and their bodies. I had work to do and so I have set out to be a better example. I began with myself. I started working on having kinder eyes for myself. I would look in the mirror and say nice things to myself. I started to thank my body. “Thank you legs for being so strong.” I started to consciously smile at myself in the mirror. I stopped allowing myself to be a harsh critic of myself. This is where it begins. I changed how my eyes viewed my body. If we work on ourselves in any area of life it benefits our children. Whatever the issue is with your child, I want you to turn to yourself and focus on what you can do. How can you help the situation? You can start by being an awesome example. This doesn’t mean to be hard on yourself when you slip up. This means to work on this with YOU. It always begins with you.
You are working on how you are talking to yourself, and you are working on how your children are talking to themselves. If you hear them say something negative about how they look, you can chime in. I tell my daughters that they have healthy, strong bodies. You want to avoid the word thin. You want to avoid complimenting them on their looks. I catch myself telling them how beautiful they are all the time. I will correct myself and say something about how them being beautiful inside is most important. I work on complimenting my children on things other than their looks. I notice my friends do it all the time. I heard my friend say to another mom, “You just keep getting thinner.” Why do we do that? We don’t want our children to hear that. We want to focus solely on health and not on looks. What can I say to my kids that doesn’t have to do with their looks?
“You are so responsible.”
“You are such a hard worker.”
“You are so capable.”
“You have such a good head on your shoulders.”
“You are so smart.”
“You are so helpful.”
“You are so kind.”
“You have such a good heart.”
We compliment our kids on their looks and we compliment our friends on their looks too. I think we could all shift to more in depth compliments. I think we can all shift our focus away from how someone looks.
Having a good relationship with food goes hand in hand with having a good body image. We can all avoid talking badly about food. We want to encourage our children to eat healthy. We want to buy healthy foods and make them healthy meals. That’s all important. They will also want to eat whatever we are eating. I also watch how I talk about food. My family has been known to say that McDonald’s is gross. I don’t even want to encourage that. I want them to think about food differently than me and have a better relationship with food. I don’t want them to have to take years to work on this. I want to do better for my kids.
I notice that when I am very stressed out, I will say things like, “I need some chocolate.” This is not a healthy coping skill. If we teach them better ways to cope, we can teach them not to turn to food for comfort. For example, when I’m stressed out, I will now say things like, “I’m going to go write about this.” Help your kids identify positive ways to cope with stress and avoid modeling turning to food. Show them that you are going to go for a long walk to unwind. Tell them what you are thinking and doing so that they can learn from you.
Your voice becomes your child’s voice so help them develop positive self talk. “My legs are so strong. My body is so capable. I’m so thankful for my body.” This is not just for my daughters. This 100% applies to my son too. He is very aware of eating healthy. He is very aware of how working out gives him muscles. I want to be sure to focus on the health side of it for him. I want him to workout to be healthy and not to look a certain way.
I’m loving Sam Previte on Tik Tok. She is a dietician who I’m finding to be super helpful. She talks about intuitive eating, and she is taking all the judgement out of eating. “Food holds no morality,” is one of my favorite lines that she says.
How can you help your children have a better body image? Shut down your critical voice. The next time you go to criticize how you look, remember that your children are listening. Use that as inspiration to treat yourself better. Your words become your children’s words to themselves. Let’s give them good things to say. Go start right now.
Laughing, Learning, Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R
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