Teaching Children Positive Self Body Talk

By Heather Irwin, MS, RD, LDN

In today’s society, we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us to try this cleanse, don’t eat bananas, do this fast, lose weight, don’t eat carbs, be healthier, etc. It can be overwhelming and exhausting to keep up with it all. One thing you can be sure about is that our children are also exposed to many of the same messages we are.

Therefore, it is important for parents to be aware of their own attitudes and behaviors, as well as how to talk healthfully about their own bodies. As a parent, what you do can affect how your children think and feel about their bodies. Here are some helpful tips on how to communicate nonverbally and verbally with your children.

Moderation (Avoid labeling foods as “bad”)

Many diets encourage you to lose weight by limiting your intake of “bad” foods. Try to avoid labeling foods as good or bad.  If you label a food “bad,” it’s only natural that you now feel bad or guilty for eating that particular food. If you encourage healthful foods, instead of avoiding unhealthful foods, you are more likely to develop healthful overall eating habits.

One strategy is to try to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your meals. But remember to listen to your body. Entirely avoiding certain foods, even those such as chocolate, is not a good idea.

Avoiding certain foods, especially ones that you are craving, actually leads to eating more of that food later than you would have originally. You can let yourself have the occasional treat; moderation is key to a well-balanced, healthful lifestyle.

The good news is, not only will this behavior make you healthier, but it will help your child have healthier behaviors toward food, too. Children tend to model the actions of their parents. When you focus on eating healthful foods, your child is more likely to do the same.

Choose kind words (for yourself and others)

Never make comments about other people’s weight, whether teasing or not. Any teasing about weight is bad because it gives unnecessary and often negative attention to an individual’s body.

Similarly, do not engage in “fat talk” about your own body. Fat talk is when you make negative comments to others about your body, such as, “I look fat in these jeans” or “I am so fat.” When you make comments such as these, whether directly to your children or not, children hear them, think about them and often later engage in similar commentary with their friends. Be careful what you say to your partner, friends, or other family members – children hear everything!

Therefore, engaging in positive talk about yourself is essential. If you find that refraining from commenting about your body is hard to do, focus on what your body can do, not what it can’t.

Positive talk will help you love your body and all of the wonderful things it allows you to do. If you love your body, you can help your child love his/her body, too.

Communicate

As a parent, you can do only so much to prevent your child from being exposed to conversations about weight and dieting, and images of thinness and muscularity. So one way to take a hands-on approach is to use any of the experiences your child has as an opportunity for you to talk to him/her. The media, in particular, provide a great opportunity for discussion.

In the media, individuals often are presented in an unrealistic way. For example, girls and women are portrayed as extremely thin, and boys and men are shown as being extremely muscular. These portrayals serve as indicators of how we are “supposed” to look.

Thus, talk to your child about what he/she sees and encourage him/her to understand that the images seen are not realistic and are not healthy.

Heather Irwin, MS, RD, LDN
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