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33 tips to raise body confident kids

Navigating the landscape of body image and healthy eating is terrifying for many parents. As quoted in Good Health Magazine August, 2015 our Clinical Psychologist (and mother of two) Christie explains some of the things you can do to raise body confident kids.

Messages about people need to focus on substance & diversity

1. Talk about how people are different and varied, we come in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes. We all have things we are good at, things we are not so good at. This is normal

2. The most important thing is talking about the kind of person we are. Talk about people we meet and interact with who are kind, thoughtful, put others first…how beautiful these people are. This is true beauty!

3. As a general rule, do not comment on your kids bodies – or other people’s for that matter

4. Avoid joke telling or name calling related to weight e.g., chubby, skinny

5. Avoid positive comments linked to weight loss. e.g., you look gorgeous, have you lost weight? This reinforces weight loss and keeps self worth focused on appearance and weight control

6. Be aware of the comments you make about your own weight or appearance. The seed for body image issues can be sown as a child sees his or her parents not only judging others, but themselves according to their appearance. The child identifies the importance given to weight and may begin to focus on controlling their own shape and weight, putting them at risk for developing an eating disorder

7. When you do mention appearance, keep the discussion descriptive. It is important that they feel valued for so many other things apart from their appearance. If their self worth is based on appearance, especially weight they will put a great deal of effort into maintaining this and it can lead to the onset of an eating disorder. We need to give the clear message that we love them unconditionally, inside and out, that there is so much more to them than their appearance. Appearance is only one aspect of a person

Messages about food need to be positive

8. Avoid talking about calories, the fat or sugar content of foods

9. Rather than foods being labelled as good or bad  (this creates blame and guilt) instead talk about “sometimes food” and “everyday food”

10. Don’t avoid any foods yourself or as a family, but talk about healthy eating being a balance of these everyday foods and sometimes foods. We need both of these as part of a healthy lifestyle

11. Discuss the importance of food. Talk about how our bodies need food to work well, just like cars need fuel. If a car doesn’t have enough fuel it splatters along, not working well. If our bodies don’t get enough regular food, we also splutter along…not able to think clearly, not having enough energy to do the things we want to do, often making us feel irritable too

12. Avoid talk about diets or cutting out any foods.  Do talk about the dangers of dieting when you come across something on TV or in a magazine. These everyday occurrences are great opportunities to help kids become aware of unhelpful media messages especially with regard to the unrealistic, ideal body that tends to be pushed. Discuss with them what they think about the images they see and any pressure they feel from these

Model a healthy body image and relationship with food

13. It is important to try to be a good role model for children by loving your body and being comfortable in your skin. Eat a variety of foods, the same foods as your kids

14. Engage in regular exercise and demonstrate flexibility in this regard. An obsession with exercise can also be dangerous for children to observe in their parents as it communicates that they are not good enough and need to change their body

15. Ideally families should take the time to eat together. Sitting down together for a family meal provides the opportunity to touch base with everyone and increases your awareness of any changes in your child’s life including eating behaviours. Eating together is a big protective factor for preventing eating disorder behaviour

16. Try to keep any negative thoughts you might have about your own body …in your head. Hearing a parent say they are fat or need to lose weight will negatively affect the way a child views and talks about him/her self and they are more likely to follow in this self deprecating way of seeing themselves

Be aware of what goes on in your child’s world

17. It is important to have an awareness of what happens in your school’s “nutrition class” as this is a common trigger for the development of an eating disorder.  Be aware of your children’s reaction to these often erroneous “principles of healthy eating and exercise” which are typically delivered by teachers or coaches who our kids look up to and trust. Kids with a predisposition to eating disorders are often perfectionistic, high achievers who will follow these guidelines perfectly and obsessively …very often this can be a trigger to the development of an eating disorder. However, these guidelines come from our fat-phobic society and are an attempt to protect our kids from the so called obesity epidemic. It would be so much more helpful for kids to be taught to embrace all foods – fruits, vegetables, proteins, fats, grains, dairy products and to enjoy desserts too. Without the use of terms such as ‘junk foods’, ‘good and bad foods’ as these create blame and guilt. Rather than focusing on the sugar and fat content of food, the positive benefits of healthy food choices should be highlighted

18. If a child has a vulnerability to developing an eating disorder, comes into puberty and someone tells them they are fat…this can trigger an eating disorder. Multiple unhelpful messages regarding  a child’s weight can also trigger an eating disorder. As above, even positive comments linked to weight loss can trigger an eating disorder

Raise your kids as critical thinkers

19. Help them to develop media literacy skills

20. Rather than thinking of one conversation to help instill a positive body image, we need to think about having many of these conversations with our kids, using the things that happen around us all the time. Flicking through magazines, watching TV, these are great opportunities to talk about what society pushes as the ideal body and to give a little education around photo-shopping. In my family I am known to hit the pause button mid-movie to get the kids’ take on what is happening in the scene and why they think this way

Send consistent messages between your kids, irrespective of gender

21. Ensure both boys and girls are given the same opportunities. Do not limit the activities you encourage them to participate in given their gender. Kids of both genders can, for example, sing in the school choir, cook or play soccer- depending on what interests them

22. Both genders need an awareness of the way body shape and sexuality is manipulated by the media

23. Praise kids for the type of person they are. For their kindness toward others, their clever thinking, their abilities, rather than just for their appearance

Be wary of any type of disordered eating- which typically occurs with a cluster of symptoms rather than changes in food

24. Early warning signs of eating disorders include skipping meals, throwing out lunches, anxiety around food and food preparation (cooking for others, but not eating what they have cooked) and specific requests for food preparation which cause great anxiety if not followed. Extreme dieting, episodes of over eating and seeming unable to stop, attempts to compensate for food intake (through purging behaviours).

25. This is often accompanied by comments around physical appearance eg, “I’m fat”, “I need to lose weight”; anxiety when clothes shopping

26. Withdrawal from friends, increased feelings of sadness, irritability

27. Changes in exercise, for example the onset of intense exercise with great upset at being unable to engage in this exercise

28. Remember that there are particular times that young people are more likely to develop body image issues, including transition to puberty as bodies begin to change and fill out or transition to high school

If your child does develop an eating disorder…

29. Remember you are not to blame for the development of eating disorders in your kids. We know that healthy, well-adjusted kids that come from loving families with excellent parents do develop eating disorders. There are things that you can do to help prevent eating disorders, however, it does not make them immune

30. Whilst you are not the cause of an eating disorder, you have a very important role in your child’s full recovery

31. If you notice your child reducing their intake, make a 100% stance against this. Do not allow dieting, skipping meals or cutting out food groups. All kids need to eat three substantial meals per day with morning tea and afternoon snacks. This should be without a space of more than 3-4 hours between meals. Longer than this and the body’s metabolism begins to slow and the body sends strong hunger signals which can lead to overeating

At all times: messages between parents need to be consistent

32. Talk together (away from the kids) about particular aspects of parenting & messages you are sending- including those about weight and body image

33. Check in regularly with your partner to see if you’re on the same page with regard to your parenting approach and if not, what needs to change to get you there

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