Our bodies. We all have our hang-ups and insecurities. We have stories littered with ways we’ve been wounded by hurtful words or harmful expectations. Too many of us bear the scars of a demanding, critical world. But if you’re reading this, you, most likely, have someone at home who needs you to do better. Young eyes are watching, gleaning information about how they should view their own bodies. It’s time to do things differently for the next generation.
Let’s break the cycle of body-shaming in our families. We can teach our kids to view their bodies through an appreciative lens. It takes serious intention to model body positivity. But by stepping into this new way of thinking, you could also provide some much-needed healing for yourself in in the process.
When we say, “I can’t wear that tank top. My arms look awful,” our children hear us. They listen to us describe our physical attributes. They hear the words we utter to ourselves like “fat,” “ugly,” or “old.”
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And the younger generation picks up on our nonverbal demonstrations of frustration, too. They see us peering into the mirror as we poke and prod at our skin, wishing for less wrinkles or a smaller nose. These same children view the people raising them as personal superheroes.
You are the center of your child’s world, friend. What you say and do matters. With every critique of yourself, you state, “This is how you treat the body given to you.”
Our kids hone in our “too much” and “not enough” vibes. If you display a constant distaste for your physical appearance, there’s a very good chance the child in your home will learn to do the same. As unnatural as it may feel, trash the ugly self-talk.
Go ahead and make it off-limits. Instead, reconstruct the narrative with life-giving statements. Affirm and praise what you’ve been given. “I love that my body is strong enough to pick you up and swing you around.”
If you need a place to start, use one of my favorite phrases. I have been saying “healthy and strong” to my daughter since she was able to talk. Our bodies can do hard things. Size isn’t the goal. It’s about being healthy and strong! Whatever words or phrases you use, remember your self-talk becomes the voice in your child’s head. Positive is the goal!
A Family Plan
A big part of modeling body positivity for your kids requires making a plan. No flying blind. What a family decides to allow into the home helps filter what the world tries to throw at children. We can’t control the brutality of cultural demands on body size, type, or differences waiting outside our front doors. But what we can do is use the security of our homes to build a strong foundation for confident kids. Safety, manners, and responsibility are introduced at home to young children.
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In the same way, appreciation and respect for their bodies should be a subject our kids are well-versed in from an early age. Ongoing dialogue and teaching at home is key. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Exercise. Do you present exercise as something you have to do or get to do? The message that exercising makes us feel good and keeps us strong rids the notion of punishing our bodies. Additionally, showing your kids fun ways to move your body allows for a positive spin on exercise.
- Numbers. Scales are a hot-button issue. Some people don’t own a scale. Others check their weight every day. Instead of sitting on one particular side of the fence on this subject, I submit one simple request. Don’t put an emphasis on the scale. If you check your weight, make it an unceremonious occasion away from prying eyes. If your kid steps on the scale, it should be no big deal. My typical response when one of my kids plays with my scale is, “You’re growing! Just like your body is supposed to!” The battle over numbers has us all worn out. Don’t let it control your people. The same approach can be applied to clothing size.
- Media. Do you have magazines at home with “10 Ways to Flatten Your Tummy” and photos of picture-perfect celebrities? Those type of messages aren’t helpful to you or your children. “Not good enough” is what we take in when we pour over this type of content. Do your children watch tv shows or movies with an emphasis on outer appearances? Are your kids scrolling through makeup tutorials online? The “you should look like this” rhetoric is toxic. Replace this with reading material and shows that have an emphasis on cool things kids are doing around the globe. Focusing on how kids can use their personal talents and creativity encourages a strong sense of who they are instead of how they look. And if you’re looking for children’s books specifically on body positivity, authors have been busy! Common Sense Media provides a great compilation of books based on age, with thorough reviews.
The commitment to model body positivity for our children is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. The work takes diligence, but the reward could be one that extends far beyond the young generation we see watching us today.