How to talk to your kids about Body Image FAQS
Body Image and Eating Disorder issues are affecting kids younger and younger these days and while they’re struggling with society’s unrealistic expectations about who they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to look like, their parents are struggling to find the right ways to help them grow into the self-confident, self-assured men and women they deserve to be.
Today we’re hoping to answer some of the questions that we’re hearing most often from moms and dads who know just how delicate a topic this can be.
QUESTION 1) “I’ve decided to lose weight and get into better shape. How can I make changes to my lifestyle without making my daughter self-conscious about her own body?” -Karen, mom to daughter 13 years old
ANSWER 1) Deciding to make healthy lifestyle changes is a positive thing and the perfect opportunity to explain to your daughter how important it is to treat our bodies with the kindness and respect they deserve. The MOST important thing is to make the focus on your health and not your weight. Be clear that you are not changing your diet or physical activity in order to fit into a pair of jeans or bikini, but to enhance your quality of life.
As always, keep things positive. Instead of criticizing your body for the faults you may see, talk about all the things a healthier body will be able to DO. A good way to approach the topic, would be to say, “I’m not feeling as strong and energetic as I’d like to feel, so I’m going to start feeding my body with foods that are going to give me all the good stuff that it needs and I’m going to start being more active.” Be excited about it.
Never talk about eating LESS. If she notices that you aren’t having seconds and thirds and asks about it, just explain that you are listening to your body and feel like you’ve had enough.
Remember, it’s all about progress, not perfection. If you miss a workout or eat a little more than you planned, do NOT make a big deal about it. Your daughter needs to understand that the goal is not to be “perfect”, just perfectly happy with who you are.
QUESTION 2) “I just had my second baby and want to lose the extra weight I put on during pregnancy. How can I explain my weight loss to my daughter in a positive way?” – Laura, mom to daughter 7 years old
ANSWER 2) Much like the previous question, this is a GREAT opportunity to point out how amazing and miraculous our bodies are! Explain to your daughter that while you were pregnant, your body had a big job to do as it was creating her little brother/sister. While the baby was growing, your body needed to grow to make room for him/her and you needed to eat more to make sure that you had the energy you needed to take care of yourself, the baby and the rest of the family.
Go on to explain that now that the baby’s here, your body still needs a lot of energy but will get that energy in a different way. Avoid saying things like, “I need to get back into shape” , or “I need to lose my belly.” You want her to think of pregnancy as the wonderful experience that it is and not connect it to feeling lousy about yourself. Explain that while you were pregnant, your body was taking care of the baby from the inside and now that the baby’s here, you’re getting your body ready to take care of the baby from the outside.
Remember: There’s NO RUSH. Take your time. Only “TV moms” give birth one minute and are ready for their itsy bitsy bikinis the very next!
QUESTION 3) “What if my daughter NEEDS to lose weight, how can I help her without creating body image issues?” Tali, mom to daughter 11 years old
ANSWER 3) The very FIRST thing you need to do is MAKE sure she really is overweight. Sadly, our society completely underestimates the size of healthy bodies and all too often, a child will seem overweight because he/she is bigger than her peers, when actually, they are in a perfectly healthy weight range. Go to a doctor you TRUST (without your daughter present) and find out if there really is any reason for concern.
Truth be told, while our children are growing, the last thing we want to do is meddle with the growth process. We talked about this in our article about puberty and it holds true for younger kids as well. Kids’ bodies are constantly changing and the best thing we can do as parents is to make sure that they’re getting healthy food, in healthy portions and being PHYSICALLY ACTIVE.
Do NOT make ANY comments about their weight. It will only hurt, not help.
Yup, I’m going to say it again, keep the focus off of weight and on health. Talk about how good it feels when we take care of our bodies and get lots of exercise. If you really want to be supportive, make physical activity a family affair, after all, we all need to be fit and strong! Come up with fun things you could do together like going on a hike or riding bikes together after dinner. Make up fun challenges for each other: “I dare you to take the stairs instead of the escalator” or “I dare you to do a silly dance every time a commercial comes on TV”.
Another good idea is to plan meals and grocery shop together sometimes. Creating a meal from scratch can be a fun experience to do together and will help to encourage a healthy, positive relationship with food. You do not want to put your daughter on a diet as diets are based on “DONTS” and all she will think about are the foods she can’t or shouldn’t eat. Focusing instead on all the great foods she CAN eat, will make it a lot easier for her to maintain the healthy lifestyle you’re creating.
Remember: Healthy kids really do come in all shapes and sizes and it’s important that our kids feel PROUD of who they are and confident in all they can accomplish.
QUESTION 4) “My son’s school has started talking about the issue of childhood obesity and will be implementing healthy eating programs. How can I be sure that this will be a positive thing?” Meredith, mom to son 8 years old
ANSWER 4) GET INVOLVED! I cannot stress this point enough. I have seen from my own experience at my sons’ school that even the best of intentions where kids and food are concerned can go very wrong. Studies are showing that our society’s focus on child obesity is causing an increase in body preoccupation and eating disorders among boys and girls at the elementary school level. By focusing on fat, we create shame around our bodies and fear around food, exactly what we DON’T want to do. Dr. Leora Pinhas, an eating disorder specialist at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, Ontario says that for some kids, learning about foods in terms of “good” and “bad” can be dangerous and she asks for her kids to be excused from programs like these offered at her school.
Make sure your son’s school has done enough research around the issue to make sure that the message they send is a positive one. ASK questions. Talk to your son about what he is being taught and feel free to speak to his teacher or principal if anything he is learning makes you uncomfortable.
Make sure the kids are getting enough physical activity during the day. Many schools forget that being active is crucial to being healthy and instead puts all their energy towards de-junking their lunch bags.
Remember: No one has the right to judge the way you feed your child.
And this just in, from our Facebook page:
QUESTION 5: “I had a third grader tell me today that she gave away most of her lunch because she’s “watching her appetite.” When I asked for more, she told me that another third grader told her she’d get fat if she ate too much. Any advice?” – Susan R
Melissa: I would emphasize that our bodies need food for fuel in order to work. Ask her what “watching her appetite” means? That she’s on a diet or trying to lose weight? Ask her why she is afraid/concerned about getting “fat”, and what that would mean to her. I would point out that if a human body doesn’t have food and nutrients, it cannot learn, play, fun, etc.
I would also tell her that if her tummy is telling her that her body is hungry, it is more important to listen to her body than to what her friends tell her. Her body intuitively knows what is best for it.
Marci: Tell her how important it is for us to GROW! Things like Trees, flowers and PEOPLE are supposed to grow and nobody knows what’s best for bodies except us. A strong body is a healthy body and we need to eat to be strong. Ask her if she think.s she’d be a different person if she was bigger or smaller…Would she be nicer? A better friend? Better student? Nope she’d be the same amazing person. Trying to be like someone else is boring and tiring… Its so much more Fun being yourself!
Susan’s Reply: Thanks! I guess it started when she told her friends that she’d had seconds for supper the night before. Her ‘friend’ said she’d get fat if she ate that much. I will make sure to emphasize in class how wonderful everyone is no matter their shape. She’s easily the tallest girl in my class and is probably growing again! She needs that food!
With new issues and questions coming up regularly, feel free to bring your body image quandaries our way. This is a weird and wacky world we live in and the best way we can help our kids get through it, is to rely on the support of each other.
About Marci Warhaft-Nadler: Marci is a certified fitness instructor and body image consultant. After overcoming her own body image and eating disorder issues, Marci created her Fit vs Fiction program to tear down the dangerous myths related to beauty and fitness and empower kids with the self-esteem they need to tune out negative messages and be proud of who they are instead of judging themselves for who they think they’re not.
Self-Worth should NOT be measured in pounds!