By TMoM Team Member Anna Keller
Here’s a topic I find myself thinking about often as a parent to young children. How can I best set each of my kids up for success when it comes to having a healthy body image?
This feels like a daunting task being, you know, a human in the world (a female human at that). Plus, knowing all too well how image focused things can be. Also, how early that focus can start to take hold. I’ve struggled with body image a lot in my life. Along with things like connection to my feelings, knowing my authentic self, and feeling confident – all of which is very linked! After time, life experience, and lots of intentional work on myself, I’m happy to say I’m by far the healthiest I’ve been in all of those areas.
Nevertheless, the question remains: How can I help my children avoid some of the same hurtles I faced?
I’ve done lots of reading, podcast listening, talking to experts and friends. Plus, I’ve taken advice from parents who have kids older than mine. These have all led me to a few things to throw out as ideas and things I plan to do:
- Be intentional about my speech. In general, I avoid commenting on people’s bodies at all. I want my kids to hear me talk about positive traits others have. For example, that they’re smart, kind, hardworking, funny, etc. – rather than what their bodies look like (or how their bodies may have changed). When it comes to movement and food, my husband and I talk about how good and strong we feel when we exercise. Moreover, we mention how food helps to fuel our bodies and we like noticing how different foods help us feel, sleep, etc.
- Talk about this stuff with my kids. After all, the world will talk to them about it, in the form of TV, movies, the internet, other kids, adults, etc. I want to initiate conversations with them about it, too. Maybe that looks like calling out when the bodies shown on TV are only thin bodies. I’ll bring it to my kids’ attention that I NOTICE that the bodies we’re seeing on the screen aren’t representative of the bodies we see out in the world. I also want them to know, as they approach puberty, that weight gain at that stage is SO normal! That our bodies change in significant ways. I don’t want them caught off guard by this and worry that something is wrong or shameful about those changes.
- Help them stay away from candle blower outers. Brené Brown coined this term. I think it’s such a good one when talking to our kids about the company they keep. She talks about how your soul is your flame and your light. Additionally, she says you need to make sure the people around you aren’t the kind of people who feel compelled to blow your flame out. I know that if my children’s close friends are people who are going to value them for who they are, and not what they look like. That will help immensely when it comes to body image.
- Put strong boundaries in place with social media. As we all know, social media can be an open invitation to feel lacking, or to compare. It also causes us to start picking ourselves apart, physically and otherwise. To help minimize this, I want to delay my kids’ access to social media. However, even when they have a social media presence, I want to make sure we’re talking about it a lot and also putting some boundaries in place. I heard a psychologist who specializes in adolescents say it’s a good idea to keep technology out of kids’ bedrooms. I like that as a rule in our house.
- Keep working on myself. Speaking from experience, this kind of work can be incredibly uncomfortable and vulnerable. Yet, I firmly believe I’ll be able to be the best parent I can be if I’m the healthiest version of myself. To get there, I need to keep chipping away at some underlying trauma related to body image, self-confidence, and more. I owe that to myself, and I owe that healing to my kids.
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Hey Anna! As a food and body image expert, I just want to say that you did a great job with this article! I always say, body image and a positive relationship with food is caught, not taught. One of the best things that we can do as parents is model a healthy relationship with food and body to our kids… and it is ok to be a work in progress on this!
Thank you so much, Megan. That means a lot!