Being a parent is a ton of responsibility especially in terms of messaging that you may give your child without even realizing it. Living in a world filled with diets, negative body bashing and your own struggles with body image and body acceptance makes this an especially difficult challenge. Here are some tips to help you have more acceptance of your own body and start being more of a positive role model for your child.
How to be a Positive Body Image Role Model for Your Child
Our children are born into this world with a clean, beautiful slate free of diet thoughts, and are natural intuitive eaters who are OK with their bodies. As parents, it is absolutely in our job description to protect this clean slate as best as we can. Our children do not come out of the womb hating their bodies. They learn to be critical of themselves by watching others have an unhealthy relationship with their body. Unfortunately, our children are more likely to encounter, and have relationships with, people who do not have good body image. Thankfully, as their parents, we can do so much to help foster a positive sense of self and a healthy body image in our day to day interactions with them.
Here are some of my personal favorites that I practice with my family:
1. Play with them. Don’t sit on the sidelines!
One of the best ways we can model as well as encourage positive body image is being comfortable living and moving in our current body.
- Having our children see us getting in the pool, in our bathing suits, and playing along side them getting just as wet and tired as they are, sends them the message “I enjoy my body and love how much fun it allows me to have with you!”
- Help your child build a sandcastle rather than monitoring them from your beach chair. Sit in the sand, dig in the sand. Let them see you comfortable and playful in your beach attire!
- Make silly faces with them, rather than having them make silly faces at you! Let your child see that you are totally okay being goofy, that any way you look is okay by you.
2. Express verbal gratitude for your body during a conversation with your child daily.
Who cares if it sounds silly or if you don’t always believe it. When we speak positively about ourselves, it actually helps us begin to believe what we are saying, and it is an amazing opportunity to be a great role model for our kids. We can teach our children what positive body image vocabulary sounds like and how to use it just by saying it about ourselves.
- “I’m so thankful for my legs! I loved being able to run around and play with you today!”
- “Can you believe how much our hands helped us tonight at dinner cutting up and washing all of the ingredients to go in the stew? These hands are pretty awesome!”
3. Minimize time spent in front of the mirror and on what you are going to wear.
Our children do not need to see us emphasizing the importance of what we see in the mirror. If our child sees us spend 10 minutes in front of the mirror, looking at every angle possible, this communicates to them that our image is priority. If they see you do 5 outfit changes just to go to the grocery store, the message delivered is that how our clothes look and fit is overly important, possibly more important than what we are going to do in our day with them on. By all means, practice self-care. It is important for you to feel good in your clothes, but there needs to be balance. It does my heart so good to see my kids pick the first outfit that catches their eyes, throw it on, and be ready to go in 3 minutes, without looking in the mirror. I caution you not to critique what they are wearing or how it fits, or what shoes they chose to wear with their outfit. If they feel good in it, and they like it, let it go. Allowing them to have the freedom and peace to not focus on their appearance is a wonderful gift you can give them.
4. DO NOT criticize your body and how it looks or anyone else’s, in front of your children.
Don’t let your children hear you say “I hate my thighs. I wish they were smaller.” At the same time, don’t comment on the lady in the parking lot at the grocery store with a “She should not have worn that. What was she thinking?” Children are quick learners. If they see us being critical of our own or someone else’s appearance, it teachers them to turn a critical eye towards themselves and others.
Being a positive role model is a process
Try to be patient with ourself in terms of learning to stop body bashing and being accepting of your body.
You may already be doing these things with your child and not be aware of the positive impact you are having on your child already.
Are any of the guidelines stated above hard for you to do?
Set a goal for yourself that you will try to prioritize one guideline a day for the next week to practice with your children.
If you feel like you are struggling personally with negative body image that is impacting the way you interact with your children, get help for yourself in order to be the best role model for your children. You can visit http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/ and search under Find Help and Support or call Rebecca Bitzer & Associates at 301-474-2499.
Rebecca Bitzer loves to empower Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) and their clients. Co-author of Welcome to the Rebelution: Seven steps to the nutrition counseling practice of your dreams and Taste the Sweet Rebellion: Rebel against dieting.