Children are sponges. They pick up on everything, from what they see on television to what they hear their parents say. Perhaps this is why children learn at an early age that society prefers women to be thin and beautiful and men to be strong and devoid of emotion. Neither of these are healthy or realistic ideals for the majority of people. While you want your child to be healthy, skinny does not equal healthy, and neither does excessive masculinity. You have the ability to protect your child from these unhealthy expectations. Here are five ways you can raise children who have healthy ideas about body image and nutrition.
1. Help Your Child Understand the Importance of Nutrition
Teaching your child the importance of what they put into their body will help develop healthy eating habits for life. There is no age where it’s too early to start learning the benefits of nutritious food.
As they get older, get more in depth about what you teach them, because unfortunately, most schools don’t focus on nutrition enough. They should know how much your body needs of certain vitamins and minerals, how protein helps build and repair muscles, and how there are bad carbohydrates but there are also good carbohydrates, such as oatmeal carbs.
2. Reward Your Children for How They Behave and not How They Look
Unfortunately, this might be a habit that is hard to break. Boys are often rewarded for how they think and perform in sports, while girls are rewarded for their appearance.
Every time you tell your child they did well, their brains treat that information as a reward. It makes them feel good. If a girl is always rewarded when she looks good, then the tendency is for her to become overly focused on her appearance. This will only lead to a lifetime of insecurity.
When you want to tell your little girl you appreciate her, reward her for something good she’s done. There’s nothing wrong with looking nice, but it shouldn’t have a place of high importance.
3. Teach Your Child About Diversity
If you want to raise a compassionate child, teach them about diversity. A person’s appearance shouldn’t be what matters. If someone is different, or overweight, or another race, those factors shouldn’t determine whether or not you extend an offer of friendship to that person. The best way to teach this to your child is to demonstrate this behavior yourself.
4. Don’t Demonstrate Belittling Behaviors
You’ve seen people who laugh at others behind their backs, or even worse, directly to the person. Often, it’s for something the person can’t help. Belittling behaviors create insecurity for your child, because when he or she sees those behaviors deflected on to others, he or she is fully aware the same thing could happen to themselves.
If they see an overweight person teased by their family or peers, they will adopt the same type of behaviors, but they will also develop an unhealthy mental attitude toward weight.
5. Focus on Health Over Appearance
Many people can’t change their weight. They may have a health issue that results in slower metabolism, or they may have an issue that doesn’t allow them to get enough exercise.
Teach your child to focus on their health instead of their appearance. If you child has one of those health issues that may cause him or her to carry a little more weight, the weight shouldn’t be the focus. As long as they are eating the right foods and getting the right amount of exercise for them, that’s what matters.
When you focus on the things that really matter, instead of superficial things that only tend to make people feel insecure about themselves, you raise a child who is mentally and physically healthy. Isn’t that what every parent wants? Old habits, such as focussing on a girl’s appearance, are hard to break, but they are worth breaking, and they should be broken. Be aware of what you say to your children, as it could determine how they feel about their body for the rest of their lives.