Summer is upon us. Beach and pool season have arrived, as have the fad diets, slimming swimsuits, and an obsession with the “summer body”.
I’ve heard multiple conversations at the pool, specifically around the kiddie pool, that all focus on body appearance, and labeling foods. And guess who’s ears are always listening? That’s right, our kids. Our friend’s kids, our nieces, nephews, grandchildren, etc. These ears are like sponges. They absorb and repeat everything we say. By discussing your current diet, avoidance of particular foods, or dissatisfaction of yourself in a swimsuit, we are normalizing it. Kids hear enough negative body talk at school, on social media, on TV. It’s everywhere, so what can we do as the adult or caregiver?
Focus on positive discussions surrounding food and body image. You will have an impact. Here are some tips:
1.) Try avoiding labeling food as either good or bad: This can be tough. How do we explain that there has to be balance? Say just that. Kids are great at eating intuitively, but let’s be honest, often prefer the sweet stuff. Explain that all food is fuel; there are foods we need to have more often, and foods we should have less often, and that we should try to have all types of food throughout the day. By having foods that are constantly “not allowed” or “bad for you”, kids will more strongly desire those things while out somewhere like the pool or a friends house. These foods may one day evoke a sense of guilt as well, when ideally, all food should be neutral.
2.) Keep discussions of weight and body either minimal and/or positive. Avoid talking about the fact that you’ve lost or gained, would like to lose or gain, or that you’re not happy with your body. Talk about how we can make, and keep, our bodies strong and healthy vs. look a particular way. Even if you are dissatisfied with your body (consider speaking with a registered dietitian or therapist!), try keeping this conversation private.
One of the most important things you can do is to NEVER talk negatively about another person’s appearance. Acknowledge that indeed there are all different types of bodies and people, just like their are all different types of dogs! If you’ve never watched “poodle science” on YouTube, go watch it! As eloquently stated in an article on parents.com; “Kids don’t automatically pick up how to tie their shoes or brush their teeth; we have to teach them. The same is true for the values we want them to learn, such as the importance of healthful eating habits or why it’s wrong to be cruel to others about their weight,” says Parents advisor Wayne Fleisig, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Children’s of Alabama, in Birmingham. “With the difficult things, you can teach them in little pieces, on an ongoing basis.”
3.) Discuss exercise not as a way to lose weight or attain a certain body type, but a way to keep your heart muscle and bones strong, or better yet, to have fun! Try focusing on a healthy lifestyle and a desire to be active vs. having to burn off dinner, dessert, punishing oneself, etc. Think of ways of being active that can be fun for the whole family. Particularly in the summer, there are endless possibilities.
So get out there and enjoy summer with your friends, your family, or yourself!