I have noticed that, as my daughters are getting older, that they are becoming more a more conscious of the way their body looks…. This is totally natural, and I understand that. And I expect it. As they evolve through puberty, body image and how they look is of growing concern to them.
As a mom of three girls, I am ready, or I think I’m ready, for the many questions about breast size and changing body shape which will be coming my way, and the realization that as my girls’ bodies change, so will their attitudes and sense of self worth.
Not all questions are created equal.
Not all questions are straightforward with cut and dry answers. As a mom, some are more difficult to hear and even more difficult to answer. I struggle with questions such as the following, “Why do all the girls in my grade have a flat stomach except for me?” or “Why is it so hard for me to find bathing suits that I look good in?”
Both good questions.
What I want to yell out is, “I have no idea!” But, I cannot.
Hence the dilemma of all mothers.
As a mother, clearly it is hard to see our children suffer, be confused, but more so, question their own beauty as they compare themselves to their classmates and peers. So I tread very lightly when it comes to answering questions about body image. Children take what we say very seriously, and the last thing I want is to implant any negative thoughts about what our bodies are supposed to look like at any given age.
So how would I answer these questions?
Not without lots of thought, that is for sure.
My husband and I try to focus on the concept of healthy bodies. Eating right. Exercising. We offer to help our children in these areas. We ask them if they are open to hearing about healthier snack options, and we make the connection for them between eating right, moving a lot, and healthier bodies and feeling good.
We do not talk about weight, the number on the scale, or what size we are.
One of my daughters said that she wanted to start running. She is extremely athletic to begin with, and we figured she would be a natural at it. She has started walking, on our treadmill, a couple of times per week. She feels good when she gets off. So the connection is made between exercise and feeling good. The potential effect of weight loss will be a natural consequence for her, but we do not focus on that as a goal.
In addition to keeping active, we also attempt to teach the girls to make healthier food choices. We reiterate that treats are and should be considered a treat, not an entitlement. When they come home from school completely famished, their first instinct is to head for the cupboard and grab whatever they can get their hands on. Many years ago, our paediatrician said it right, “Children need to snack on real food, not snack food.” So when the kids come home, they are eating a boiled egg or a piece of cheese. Not cookies and sugar, which will only satisfy them temporarily with no real nutritional value.
This is not to say that they do not get their chocolate fix or the occasional ice cream cone. Of course they do. They are kids. But we try to teach them eating such foods in moderation and learning how to fill up on the healthier foods which will keep them fuller, longer.
Our goal, as parents, is to try and have them make the connection between the foods they eat, combined with the exercise they do, and how it makes them feel.
Eventually, it is our hope that these choices will become second nature to them. And that exercise will become something they enjoy and seek out on their own.
What are the chances? We can only hope.
Image from American Girl: The Care and Keeping of You.
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