Let’s face it, most of the media and advertising out there is working against any body positive parenting we might be trying to provide. Hell, even our parenting peers, spouses and sports communities can counteract much of what we say and do, and that is even if we have worked out our own body image issues. What we do have on our side is TIME, the time we have in our home, the time it takes to grow a child into an adult. We, as parents and caregivers, are our children’s first teachers. This hopefully raises the significance of our role modeling throughout childhood, we are the constant. We are truly the carrier of the torch, supporting the development of body image one way or another.
Will we let society usurp our role?
What core messages do you want your children to embrace?
What core messages do you not want repeated from your own upbringing?
Dr. Barbara Stroud, in her book ‘Intentional Living: Finding the Inner Peace to Create Successful Relationships‘ calls these core ideas (messages), “ heart statements–the messages you receive from childhood. It is important to note that core messages and heart statements can be both positive and negative. Heart messages aren’t always positive and helpful; “children should be seen and not heard”, “I deserve what I get”, “I’m the klutz”, “I’m the class clown”. In some families, children get pegged early on and spend their adult life climbing out of the pigeon hole (eg. smart kid, troublemaker, wild child, black sheep, Mama’s boy, Daddy’s girl, the princess, the list goes on and on). Somewhere deep inside, even if these are only words, the messages stick and begin to define us.
As a parent, we can watch for this. we can still allow for humor and self reflection, but the key is helping our kids define themselves and understand who they are from within themselves. This internalizing of positive messages is a preventative measure which sticks with us throughout life, and like mantras for meditation, we fall back on “heart messages” when we are vulnerable, so let’s learn to make them positive ones.
Many of us are breaking cycles of self deprecation of one type or another, sometimes cultural, sometimes familial… it isn’t easy for adults to change core messages (yikes, years of therapy and still battling a few of mine). So once you have answers to what core messages you want your child to inherit, try not to stray too far from those messages. Watch your double talk, your kids certainly will! Saying one thing and also saying the other backfires.
Make the most of the years with your children by encouraging them to have an integrated approach to mind and body… these 12 ideas support body authenticity for your children.
1. Start life with lots of opportunities for different ways to use your body.
Climbing, swinging, dancing, running, walking, water play, balancing. Provide lots of ways children can look at their bodies… not just in the bedroom or bathroom where dressing and cosmetics are involved, but areas where they build and play. Beauty is not solely based on aesthetics
2. Encourage confidence through creativity.
Encourage drama and arts, and all the various ways we express our inner selves. Display pictures of all kinds of beautiful. When children are involved in the arts they are introduced to many different types of people, cultures and body images. Choose your children’s literature carefully, if you come across a less than desirable book, help your child learn why it isn’t one you like so much.
3. Get rid of modesty.
As a parent, show your kids you aren’t embarrassed about your body. For God’s sake, bodies are natural! Modesty has a place, but when children are young, it is important to treat bodies as a normal part of life. This actually also goes a long way towards taking the mystery out of sex, and opens up the channels of communication. “And yes, my body jiggles and wiggles, and my boobs hang… If it embarrasses you, my child, stay out of my room when I am dressing and showering!”.
4. Fat and other body descriptors the ‘F’ words.
Health and happiness are most important. Depending on the situation, you can either squash the conversation with total finality or open a discussion about body perfection being in the eye of the beholder. When your children notice different body types, watch your own judgment, and handle the discussion in a matter of fact fashion.
5. Use appropriate language about body parts.
Never have a double standard between women and men. If your kids hear something inappropriate, don’t sweep it under the rug, explain it. (I recently told my son “Tell the kid, penises aren’t really that funny, penises are just another body part.”) We empower our kids if we speak honestly and openly without shaming.
6. Remind your child the importance of ‘inner beauty’.
Consider your use of the words beautiful, sexy, handsome. Do you use these words to describe a number of different things? Consider what it means to have inner beauty–a beautiful heart, a beautiful mind and a beautiful body. Also, consider adding an array of words such as healthy, powerful or strong when defining beauty. When you choose to praise, don’t just throw out non-descriptors. Tell them what, where, when, and how you see their true beauty.
7. Provide your children with kid friendly resources early on.
Go out and buy copies of The Period Book, Our Bodies, Ourselves and The Vagina Monologues, and the equivalent books for your boys, like What’s Happening to My Body: Book for Boys. Don’t wait until the body starts to change, let them read about it on their own, or with you far ahead of time.
8. Don’t subject your children to negative self talk.
Never let your child hear you ask if your butt looks too fat or any other possible self deprecating comment. Keep your story and your journey to yourself until you have worked through your own shit. Transferring our own body negative crap to our kids is the biggest mistake we can make. Instead of talking about how you look in an outfit, talk about how you feel. If my kids tell me I look weird, I’ll simply say “you might not like it but I feel good wearing it”.
9. Exercise should be fun, not a fat shaming chore.
Before forcing exercise or bugging your kids about eating, think about the message you are sending right in that moment. Never go on a hike because “someone needs exercise”… If you want it to be part of family life, make it part of time together and your family’s lifestyle… it always backfires to put a hungry, tired, or emotionally fragile kid on the spot about food or exercise and creates power struggles which last a lifetime.
10. Let your children choose their own clothes.
For fuck’s sake this is the stupidest battle ever. This gives us so much insight into who our children are, allow them to explore and watch what happens. Sensitivity to textures, to color choices, it all goes into developing their own personal style. Do not nit pick your children’s fashion choices. If you take issue with their style, find a healthy and constructive way to communicate your feelings/concerns. Kids need to try many different ways of being before they settle into just who they truly are.
Bottom Line: Don’t raise adults who need to go find themselves… raise kids who know who they are when they get there!