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Everyday Health & Fitness Parenting Tips & Tricks

“Building a Healthy Body Image in Kids + Tips”

Have you decided it’s high time to kick your butt into gear and lose a little weight?  Good for you and congratulations.  As long as you have a realistic goal, you should be on the fast track to success as long as you stay committed.  Eating healthier and adding regular exercise to your life is one of the best things you can do for yourself, your health and your family.  Just as much as exercise and eating healthier can be a habit your children pick up, it’s important that you don’t influence them to have a negative view about eating, and cause them to adopt a negative self image about their own body.

Though it can be exciting when you are seeing progress and it’s natural to delight in goals that you have achieved, there is a very thin line to walk regarding your own health and fitness.  It is important to stress the positives like making emphasis on eating healthier choices, not eating less food and starving yourself.  It is important to show how exercise can make you feel better, and is a natural part of your daily routine instead of a gauntlet of torture that you are only enduring so you aren’t so “fat.”

If your child sees you stepping on the scale every day and hears you making mention about being “fat”, or “if only I could change…” they might start to develop negative feelings about how their own body looks.  Children want to imitate their parents, especially when they are young.  It is much better to say that you are eating healthy because you like the way it makes you feel, instead of “I’m going to eat the salad so I can lose my butt.”  It is paramount to influence your child to live a healthy lifestyle instead of creating a cycle of negative feelings about food, negative views about their body, and a convoluted idea of what exercise means.  Use some tact!  “I need to go for a jog but I don’t want to…” sounds like a pretty negative view on working out, but mentioning that it is a beautiful day outside, and you want to enjoy the sunshine might inspire your child to take that jog with you.

Here are some tips that can help keep you in check!

Check yourself before you wreck yourself!

A parents image about their body has a strong message for how their children will view their own body.  We come in all shapes and sizes, and many of those shapes are healthy, and all of them are beautiful!  If you talk negatively about your butt, or thighs, or belly, kids naturally absorb those ideas and messages.  That last “brutal workout” just so you can have a piece of cake, keep it to yourself!  They don’t understand, and all they see is the exterior.  The deprivation, the punishment, they will start to worry if they should be dieting, exercising, and depriving themselves.

We are getting “healthy” not “skinny”

For the sake of your child, it is important to make the connection with “health” and not weight.  There is no magical number that makes you perfect.  Even medically there is a general area of BMI that means you are just as healthy as anyone else in that area.  It is just as important for you as your child to focus on being healthy and not your weight.  Don’t become obsessed with numbers and concentrate on making exercise fun and a normal part of your daily routine.  Make nutrition a fun thing, and try and create healthy plates at mealtime.  That doesn’t mean there is no room for cake.  There is!!! Kids don’t need to work out; they need to play. Kids shouldn’t count calories; they need to enjoy regular balanced meals and have smart snack choices to choose from.

Find an activity you love

Feeling strong and capable is just as important to adults as it is to children.  Make an emphasis on regular activities that they excel in.  My daughter has recently learned that she absolutely loves swimming.  That is a great exercise that we all can do.  We aren’t restricted to droning by doing laps in a pool.  We are having fun, playing tag and doing “sweet pool moves.” “Look at those muscles!” I will say.  I can see her proud and excited to see that exercise is fun and rewarding, both.  Some children enjoy team sports, others individual activities, but as long as they are doing something, it’s ALL good!!!

Keep an eye out for bullies

Keep tabs on your child and watch them.  Do they seem upset, are they skipping meals, are they eating less?  They might be dealing with a bully.  Bullies pick on the most sensitive of children and weight related bullying is one of the biggest trials children might have to deal with.  Address the issue with your child, with the school, and to whomever else you can.  Most schools promote exercise and positive nutrition, but that doesn’t mean that all the kids get the message.  If you think your kid might be being bullied about their weight, or any other reason, talk to the school ASAP.

There is no “perfect”

It is pretty hard for kids to dissect what they are seeing on TV isn’t reality.  I had a long conversation about “reality TV” the other day, and it was like talking to a wall, first explaining that “reality TV” isn’t actual reality, and that not all TV is real either.  Help your kiddo understand that models and actors, people on the cover of magazines have been edited, Photoshopped and made up to look “perfect” and that people don’t actually look that way.  I tell her its their “TV costume” and equate all that makeup and fancy clothes with Halloween, not reality.

Be careful what you say, and how you say it

It is natural to be excited about weight loss, but don’t make that the emphasis. Even if you aren’t losing weight, be careful what you say and how you are judging your own body and others.  “I wish I had abs like that”, can really effect your kids idea of what a body should be.  I’m never gonna have a six pack, and I can deal with that!  Even when you get a compliment, “Oh wow you look so skinny now!”, that person has the best intentions, but by saying “thanks”, you are allowing the emphasis on being thin, as if that was your goal.  Allow that to be a staring point to mention your new lifestyle of making healthier decisions, and choices.  Getting thin might be a side effect of all the fun exercise and great new foods, but it certainly isn’t the main focus.  You want to feel better, look better, and be a better person that is around for a long time.

Becoming fit and healthy is always a great thing, but beware of the double edged sword.  We want to be strong, not skinny, and healthy, not sick!  Your children are your greatest imitators, and we have to be mindful of the message we are sending to them when we decide to lose weight.  Good luck and lead in with your heart!

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