By Melanie A. Cole, MEd, EdD, NCC, and Barb Andresen, RD, LDN
The best gift you can give your children in teaching them about their bodies is to role model and to teach respect; respect for themselves, their bodies, as well as respect for others.
This respect comes from helping them learn to communicate with their body. Similar to teaching kids how to verbally communicate, this is a skill that can be taught and learned.
Communicating with their bodies will assist them throughout their entire life. What their body is saying, what messages the body is trying to relay and how to respond appropriately is the key to keeping ourselves safe and healthy. Responding to our bodies does not always mean responding with food.
Responding to our bodies might mean we need sleep, a hug, to talk to a friend, or to journal.
Since all bodies are different, teach that we have to learn how our individual body responds to various foods.
Teach them to learn to seek out information about what they are putting in their bodies. Help them to learn how to find this information from resources that are not trying to solicit business or money.
Teach them about the effects of media, gimmicks, and fads.
Ask them what they think of the old slogan “no pain no gain” and how that might reflect respecting their bodies. Teach them to be gentle to their bodies. They are truly a wondrous gift.
Talk to kids about their body, by teaching them how it works. Bones and muscles will communicate with them too. Don’t say anything about weight.
Consider not having a scale in the house and teach them to listen to bodies by how they feel rather than what a scale or what a BMI reading might say.
Compliment them on something that has nothing to do with their body.
Don’t comment on other people’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, We never know another person’s story.
Teach them about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards themselves.
Teach them about acceptance, all sizes, colors, intelligence types, etc. That relays respect and diversity.
Don’t talk about how much you hate your body in front of your children.
Don’t talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your kids. Don’t say “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your kids should never think that carbs (or any foods) are evil or bad. Shame over what we eat only leads to shame about ourselves, which is the opposite of respect.
Buy a variety of foods and have kids try different foods for different nutritional value. They don’t have to like them, but trying them encourages taking chances.
Encourage your kids to run and play because it is fun and can make them feel less stressed.
Teach them about growth spurts and that at times our bodies might need different foods and amounts to grow respectfully. Encourage your kids to climb mountains because there might be opportunities to explore their spirituality and possibly see and feel things that might be unforgettable.
Encourage your kids to surf, rock climb, or mountain bike because it challenges them and allows them to have a new experience.
Help your kids love soccer, rowing or hockey by being willing to play with them. Playing sports can make them a better team members and leaders which can increase their confidence.
Teach them that their bodies will always be changing and that they can learn how to adapt to those changes.
Teach them about being flexible with their activities and food choices. It can help them stay creative in taking care of and respecting their bodies.
Teach your kids how to cook; they might learn to enjoy the process that can be had from learning new things.
Pass on the gift of being outside and the joy that can be found from inhaling fresh air.
Teach them how to harvest a garden.
Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. It’s easy to focus on the less perfect parts of our bodies, so encourage them to focus on the parts of their bodies they do like, and be proud of who they are.