Girls today get so many mixed messages about health.
So, how do we raise healthy, confident girls in today’s society? That’s a pretty loaded question and a very important one. It’s also a question that we’ve come to expect from parents addressing the needs of teenagers. Yet, more and more often, I am getting this question from moms panicking when their 6-year-old asks why their belly is bigger than their friend’s, when their 9-year-old says they only want to eat salad without dressing for lunch everyday, when their 12-year-old asks why she doesn’t have a thigh gap…
Between new societal expectations and simply kids maturing way too early, this epidemic of poor body image and early eating disorders is spreading and spreading fast. So what can we as parents do?
First and foremost is…watch our own language. We need to start to pay attention to the things we say about ourselves―because as we all know, kids hear EVERYTHING! Do you discuss your newest diet on the phone with a friend? Complain to your husband that your dress got too tight or your behind got too big? Do you obsess over the dessert you shouldn’t have eaten, or the exercise class you missed? Is your order in restaurants the “egg white, no oil, salad, dressing on the side, make sure there’s no cream in the soup!!” order?
Inadvertently, some of us talk about OTHER people without realizing it, for good OR for bad. And again, our kids are absorbing it all. We comment and rave about weight loss and how good others look as well as the flipside, weight gain and other negative comments….“You look so skinny” has become a normal compliment in our world, yet kids need to learn that commenting on ANY type of body size is inappropriate. It sends our children the message that the size and shape of your body is what defines you and that “skinny” is the best thing they could be.
We must retrain ourselves to emphasize all of our children’s beautiful qualities. We need to remark on their artistic ability, beautiful character traits, their intelligence and resourcefulness. We need to remind them that being kind, independent, generous and caring are what will carry them through this life successfully.
Involving your children with pursuits beyond physicality will take the emphasis off of looks and onto character and talent. Get them involved in a volunteer organization, join a sports team, take art classes, have them learn a second language… The sense of purpose and accomplishments from working towards a goal will build their confidence and esteem more than any superficial compliment can.
Be in tune to the groups of friends they associate with and the books and magazines left lying around the house. Know what may trigger your child and either actively avoid it or address it head on (friends, peer pressure, and body-shaming instances). Ignorance is NOT bliss!
Kids are bombarded with so many conflicting and confusing messages about food, diet and health, so start with the basics. Teach them what the food groups are and how beneficial each one is and how we need all of them to survive. Carbs are not evil, fats are not bad; our body needs them all to thrive and grow. Show them what a healthy plate looks like using your own plate as an example. Coach them that food is fuel for strength, endurance, brain function, disease prevention; not that food makes us fat or skinny.
Emphasizing HOW we eat rather than WHAT we eat is also a crucial lesson. Kids obviously learn by example, so be mindful that they see mealtime as a relaxed and calm. The dinner table is NOT the place to lecture and educate, but the place to bond and listen to one another. Practice eating without distractions (be it cellphones, games, books or general multitasking), and pay attention to the food, eat slowly and sit down at a table. Show your imperfections as well as your healthy habits- show them that were all human, even MOM!
The best message we can send is, that if we eat well most of the time, we can indulge without guilt and live our lives without obsessing over what went into our mouths. Let’s teach our children healthy habits and simultaneously give them the confidence, support, and love without the judgement and pressure. Together we can work towards a generation of self assured, well-rounded young adults who value health and fulfillment above size and shape.
Julie Botton is a Health Coach certified with the Institute of Integrative Health and a mom of four. She specializes in pre-teen and teen girls, as well as coaching adults, speaking in public and teaching in local high schools. She believes in promoting positive body image and giving her clients an education in foundational nutrition. Together they work on small upgrades to build sustainable change for a lifetime of healthy habits! She is also a doTerra Wellness Advocate and Educator to help people utilize natural solutions for their health. Check her out on insta @juliebotton or on website at www.juliebottonwellness.com.