By Carla Foote
I distinctly remember the first time I realized that my son had invaded my snacking space, and I would not be able to enjoy a candy bar by myself any longer. We were driving down the highway, my preschooler safely strapped into his car seat. I quietly unwrapped a miniature Snickers bar, ready to quickly pop it into my mouth, when my son said, “Mommy, what you eating?”
Yikes – lying to my child wasn’t a good option, but I was at least a smart enough mother to know that if I mentioned “candy” then the next thing out of his mouth would be a loud, “Me want candy.” And our quiet drive down the highway would deteriorate quickly.
Of course, I can justify my eating habits by saying that I don’t have a candy bar every day, but the truth is that I do struggle with healthy eating and activity, which affects my body image. And children observe and copy everything they see us do, say and eat. So our habits become their habits — the healthy habits, and the not-so-healthy ones. Because of the intense scrutiny of our children, as parents, we worry about transferring our own issues about our body image to our children. Whatever your personal issues with your own body, the school years are a great time for family activities that reinforce healthy body image for all of you.
Children know how to jump and move and wiggle and dance. As adults, sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to participate in active play with our children. The more your family can enjoy a variety of physical activities together, the better everyone will feel about their bodies, parents included!
Activity doesn’t have to be complicated. Try a simple family routine of walking around the block after dinner to get fresh air and exercise, or moving to music in the living room. Put on the bike helmets and ride bikes to the park. Encourage your kids’ movement and participate along with them.
A side benefit to active movement is less time for television, which is passive and exposes children to advertising images with subtle but often unhealthy body messages.
Choose Good Fuel
Active children who are using their bodies get thirsty and hungry. Positive messages about using our bodies also spill over into topics of fueling our bodies. Thirsty kids naturally gravitate toward juice products, but the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions that fruit juice and fruit drinks are easily over consumed by children because they taste good. A better choice for active families is a piece of fruit for a snack and water to quench the thirst.
Give Positive Messages
Keep conversation about body parts positive. If kids see you feeling comfortable in your body, they will think that this is a normal way to relate to their body. If they hear you talking about your body in a way that is negative, they will internalize the negative message.
The Bible also has great positive messages about our bodies that can be shared with children in an age-appropriate way. As you read the creation story in Genesis, you can talk about the amazing way that God created our bodies. Affirming that your child is “wonderfully made” is a great foundation for him or her (Psalm 139:14).
Developing a healthy body image is a lifelong process for both you and your children. By focusing on a process, rather than a single conversation, some of the pressure to “get it right” at every moment is relieved. At the same time, you can be purposeful and keep growing as a family in terms of body image. As your children grow and develop additional physical abilities, adapt your family’s activity schedule to include fun, noncompetitive games and outings that build on their strengths and interests.
Carla Foote is Sr. Director Community & Resources for MOPS International. Her children are mostly grown, but she still enjoys a walk around the park with them when they are home for a visit.