7 Body-Positive Parenting Rules to Live By

August 23, 2016


Body-Positive Parenting: Why it’s so important

I recently read some disturbing statistics about body image and children, via the Huffington Post, which really highlights a need for our conscious body-positive parenting efforts – to help our future generations feel more confident in their skin. Here are the disturbing stats:

42% of 1st-3rd grade girls wish they were thinner

81% of 10 year old girls are afraid of getting fat

– in a survey of girls approximately 14-18 years:

  • more than 59% were trying to lose weight
  • in the last 30 days prior to survey, over 18% had starved themselves for a day or more to lose weight
  • 11.3% had used diet pills and 8.4% had vomited or taken laxatives to lose weight (source: CDC, 2004)

My immediate thought after reading this was of my 6-year old daughter Eve (who’s about to enter 1st grade), and how hell-bent and determined I am to prevent her from being a part of those statistics (because I sure didn’t manage to avoid it myself, and it wasn’t much fun). My next thought was how everyone – parent or not – can be a part of preventing our future generations from perpetuating these statistics.

Body Love Starts with Mom

(and Dad of course!)

By now, we all know there’s a problem with the media – that images are being photo-shopped to portray unrealistic body proportions and impossibly flawless skin – but blaming the media doesn’t help the situation. We can’t control what’s in the media. We also can’t put our children in giant bubbles to prevent them from seeing T.V. or magazine ads, or from ever playing with a Barbie or Disney Princess doll.

What we can do though, is look in the mirror and see what behaviours we’re modelling to our children.

Like it or not, our children are watching our every move, all the time – even when we don’t think they’re watching. Just like they learn our language by repeating our words, they also learn other patterns and behaviours, including those of self-love and acceptance (or lack thereof), by mimicking us. Our children’s body image will become a direct reflection of our own.

This has never been more clear to me than now.

(Note: I’m definitely not preaching here. I’m fully aware of the behaviours that I model to my daughter as she’s growing up – not all of them ideal, but thankfully I’ve learned to overcome most of my problematic habits around body image. It’s what’s driven me to write this article.)

This article is NOT aimed at blaming parents for all their children’s problems, but rather a call out to parents – myself included – to take responsibility. By taking responsibility, we have the control to change the influence we have – without guilt, shame or blame. We have the opportunity to impact the course of our children’s lives by taking responsibility for what they see, hear, feel and experience at home.

We can directly influence how they see the world, and more importantly, themselves.

By making the shift from blaming media and other outside sources, to taking responsibility for how we show up in our children’s worlds, we can more easily influence how they grow; hopefully into confident human beings who will focus on bigger and better things than the number they see on the scale, or the shape of their butts – perhaps on passions like saving the environment or endangered species, or ending world hunger.

Telling our children that they’re smart, talented, unique and beautiful just as they are, is important – but it’s simply not enough. We have to model it. They won’t just “do as we say” in this case; they will do as we do.

So, from as early an age as possible, we need to start acting like the women (and men – because boys and men are just as susceptible to poor body image) we want our daughters (and sons) to grow up to be. It’s time to start breaking the pattern that we see repeating itself generation after generation – and in the process, help ourselves live out more fulfilling lives.

Here are 7 simple “Do’s and Don’ts” for body-positive parenting:

1) DON’T go to extremes

This includes any dramatic change to your diet and fitness routines (i.e. eliminating any entire food group, or going from couch to “insanity”-style workouts). Drastic is rarely sustainable, and can be very harmful if modelled to our children.

DO educate yourself and make small, realistic changes to your nutrition and fitness habits each and every week

Ask yourself: “Can I do this (change) every day – or week – for the rest of my life?” If the answer is no, then make the change smaller until it’s a yes. If done consistently every week, you will have made 52 positive, permanent changes by the end of this year. Is that not way better than 10 drastic, unsustainable ones that you have to repeat each and every January?

Note: When it comes to nutrition, adding healthy options is usually a much easier and more sustainable change than eliminating “bad” ones. When you start to feel healthier from choosing more nourishing options, the elimination of unsupported foods/habits usually comes naturally (although not an overnight process).

What our children learn from this:

Being active is a lifestyle (not just something you do a couple of times a year), and fitness is something you can build on over time to achieve better and better results. They’ll also learn that food is nourishing, and interesting, and even fun – not evil. By switching from a diet-mentality to one of nutrition (BIG difference), your children won’t be directly exposed to detrimental habits of deprivation and binge eating. Instead, they’ll learn balance.

Also, if you’re continually adding new healthy foods into your weekly menu, trying new healthy recipes, and involving your kids in the process, they will not only learn the importance of nutrition, but they’ll also learn how to prepare healthy foods and make better food choices for themselves when you’re not around.

2) DON’T talk about body shape or size

There is so much more to appreciate about our bodies than their size or shape! In fact, “Fat” and “skinny” are both words that rarely get used in our home. When they’re used as a way to describe someone’s physical body, this never has a positive impact. Even if it’s said lightly or in humour, it can be harmful and hurtful, and draw children to focus  unnecessarily on superficial qualities, which can have a lasting negative effect.

DO talk about health, energy and mobility

Let’s face it, when we’re over or under healthy weight/size threshold, it usually comes with feelings of sluggishness, discomfort and decreased mobility. This gives us an opportunity to focus on something other than simply the external “problems” with our bodies. As parents, we can consciously choose to discuss and model behaviours to improve the health of our physical bodies, which will encourage our children to do the same.

What our children learn from this:

Although they will no doubt be exposed to negative language about body shape and size outside of the home (whether around them, or directed at them), what they learn at home will impact how they react and how they let it affect them. If their parents are not judging or giving their body labels, children will be more likely to express kindness, rather than judgement, towards their peers, and themselves – no matter what their size.

3) DON’T spend time nit-picking imperfections in the mirror

Your children are watching, and will in turn begin to look for pimples, dimples and other physical “imperfections” that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

DO nurture your body and skin regularly

Take care of yourself with good daily hygiene, and include regular pampering. Take a sea salt or lavender bath, cleanse with an occasional mud mask, get a pedicure, or whatever else makes you feel amazing. Make sure to treat yourself to pampering every week – it doesn’t have to cost money.

What our children learn from this:

They’ll learn to take good care of themselves, and to focus on the things that make them feel good, not the things they don’t like. In short, they’ll learn to nurture, not nit-pick.

4) DON’T dress up or wear make-up everyday

Of course there may be a professional reason for dressing up on weekdays, but whenever you can, step out the door with a “naked” face and comfortable clothes and notice how refreshing it feels – and how much time it saves! Show your children that you don’t “have” to dress up or make up your face every day.

DO dress regularly for play!

Put your hair in a bad ponytail, throw on your crappy jeans or p.j. pants and a t-shirt and get ready to play with your children – go to the park, or beach, or hiking trail, or just horse around in your backyard or living room. Be present with them, and pay no attention whatsoever to your hair, makeup, or clothes. Your primary goal is to have fun.

What our children learn from this:

There’s more to life than looking good. In fact, sometimes you can have more fun when you’re dressed like crap because you don’t mind getting dirty.

Oh, and they’ll learn that mom’s actually pretty cool.

5) DON’T highlight your weaknesses

Your children are listening! When you talk about the things you suck at, they will talk about the things they suck at, which is obviously counterproductive to lifting their self-esteem.

We all suck at some things, even many things. Who cares. We are also amazing at other things. We can’t all be a jack-of-all-trades – and frankly who wants to be, it sounds exhausting – so stop giving attention to those things you don’t do well. If you have trouble with this, engage some supportive partners to stop you in your tracks when you start putting yourself down.

DO focus on your passions and strengths

What you focus on expands. By making this one simple shift, you could go from being amazing at something, to being simply incredible/Ellen Show-worthy at that thing. Now that’s worth putting some effort into, isn’t it?

What our children learn from this:

This one’s a no-brainer: they will learn to focus and build on their passions and strengths, and do way less of putting themselves down for the things they don’t do as well. They’ll also learn that feeling beautiful is an inside job.

6) DON’T judge others – either by putting them down OR by putting them on a pedestal

Our children are learning from our every word.

DO point out the best in others, without glorifying them

The beauty of being a parent and leading our children is that we have the freedom to choose what we draw their attention to – for example, we could point to a magazine and say how sickly thin a model looks (put-down-mode), or how enviously naturally-toned her legs are (pedestal-mode), or we can simply say “I love that gorgeous dress – it really suits her”. It’s all a choice – and by choosing the latter, we’re giving our children that same freedom.

What our children learn from this:

There are unique and positive traits in everyone; yet no one is “better” than anyone else.

7) DON’T weigh yourself more than once/week (MAX!)

It’s important to NOT give so much attention to the scale, or weight-loss as a goal in general. It’s definitely not the best measure of health, and can lead to obsessive behaviour (which, you guessed it, your children are watching). For most accurate physical results of your healthy efforts, use a tape measure. I also recommend keeping a daily journal of your overall energy level and mood (happiness) on a scale of 1-10. Because that’s the stuff that really matters.

DO hide your bathroom scale, so it’s not readily accessible to your children – or yourself

If you absolutely must use it (which I really don’t advocate), bring it out only every 4-6 weeks to check in on your personal progress – and only every year for your children, to record their milestone weight. Or better yet, let the Dr. do that for you.

What our children learn from this:

Nothing, hopefully. If they don’t see it, they won’t learn the habit and resulting negative impact of daily/hourly scale-gazing.

BE the Change

If we can release our obsessions with fads, quick fixes and all that is “wrong” with ourselves and the world, we can instead turn our attention to laying a positive foundation for our children’s healthy self- and body-image through our own conscious, positive behaviours. This not only helps to change our own lives for the better, but it can also have a lasting impact on theirs.

As Gandhi famously said “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Whether you’re a parent, auntie/uncle, big sister/brother, babysitter, teacher or anyone else that has an influence on children – make it a positive one, and be the model of how you wish to see the children in your life grow and thrive in the world.

Do you have more ‘rules’ to add to this list?

Please leave a comment below and let me know!

Does this sound easier said than done?

Sometimes we know what to do, but we have trouble actually doing it. If this rings true for you, it may be your subconscious mind that’s to blame. Are you ready change this? Take The 30-Day Love Your Body NOW! Challenge and start your Body Love journey – for you and your children, today.