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Practicing what we preach…modeling positive self talk for our children

By Brandy Browne

This morning, I had a powerful insight during an interaction with my daughter. I led a creative well being dance workshop with my kindergarten class this morning. Fridays are our days to have some fun social time, and I usually run lessons on mental health/social skills. Leading the dance workshop was a blast, and everyone was all smiles. During the lesson, I had my daughter snap a few pictures for me, so I could tag The Lily Jo Project, the amazing nonprofit that I am a part of, as I was using the workshop from their online learning platform. As she passed over my phone, so proud of her photos, I almost cringed. All I could see was the 10-15 pounds of weight that I would like to lose (a hormone imbalance has wreaked havoc on my body this year…migraines, fatigue, yo-yo weight, etc.). Then, my eyes met hers. Full of ten year old intuition, she was watching carefully for my reaction. I had a choice to make. I could either complain about my figure, or I could praise her profusely for her photography skills. I chose the latter, and here’s why. I would NEVER want her to look at a photograph of herself, and pick it apart the way I have been guilty of doing. Over the last few years, as she races to her teens and becomes much more body aware, I have needed to be especially mindful of how I refer to my own body in front of her. Rather than complain about my muscular thighs (I run 10-15 miles a week), I can talk about how those muscular legs of mine have carried me through a full marathon in 2020. I literally ran for over six hours on them. Those hips have held children on them for the last ten years. Those wrinkles around my eyes are from a life of laughter. Likewise, that wrinkle between my eyes is definitely from making that, “What are you doing????” face at children for over a decade…ha!

It seems harmless, right? That offhand comment you make about looking fat in those pants? It’s really not though, says Claire Mysko, CEO of National Eating Disorders Association. “Negative body talk in the family environment can lead to less mindful eating, more disordered eating, less body appreciation, and increased body dissatisfaction in children, which can persist into adulthood” (Bologna, 2020, retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-kids-hear-parent-criticize-body_l_5f36f2d4c5b69fa9e2fb7581). These kinds of negative self assessments of your body send a powerful (even if it is unintentional) message to your child that appearance matters more than character. Doesn’t sound so harmful now, does it?

It is not too late to make positive self image a focus in your home, even if you struggle in that area personally. Here are a few key strategies to hone in on…

4 Strategies to Build Positive Self Image

  1. Fake it til you make it…you may not love those muscular legs, but your child only needs to know that having muscles helps your body move in many different ways.
  2. Get in touch with your physical side by staying active. Exercise has a wonderful way on helping us remember what our bodies CAN do! It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you enjoy it enough to be consistent with it. Invite your child in on the fun. Make getting physical a family affair.
  3. Praise individuality…my youngest has wildly curly hair. It is often flying everywhere. However, her wild hair and sparkling eyes make her spirit shine through in everything she does. I praise it every chance I get. 
  4. Discuss moderation. Rather than using restrictive terms like “diet” embrace a “everything in moderation” attitude. 

Concluding Thoughts

I have been engaging in negative self talk about my body regardless of my weight, level of physical fitness, or overall health for at least two decades. That is not a legacy I want to pass to my children. It is my mission as their parent to guide their focus to healthy self image and building character, rather than focusing on some airbrushed image that is portrayed as “perfect” in the magazine. Beauty and talent comes in many forms, and that is definitely a message worth spreading in this world. 

Sources

Bologna, C. (2020). What kids hear when you criticize your body in front of them. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-kids-hear-parent-criticize-body_l_5f36f2d4c5b69fa9e2fb7581

Soster-Smith, R. (2015). 8 Body image boosting tricks every parent should know. Retrieved from https://afineparent.com/be-positive/positive-body-image.html

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