Helping Your Kids Love Their Bodies

It’s a rough go these days, embracing this “love your body” campaign. If I’m being really honest with you, I don’t totally love mine most of the time right now. Yep, I said it. I recently read an article about a mom who was choosing not to embrace her “mom bod” and I totally get it. On the days I’m supposed to embrace this new body of mine, I eat tortillas and queso freely. I excuse myself politely from my morning run because I’m too tired. I decide anything other than baggy shirts and yoga pants would be trying too hard. After all, I’m a double C-section mom and I have scars that won’t quit, and I can’t help that. So what’s the big deal if I just pull an Elsa and “let it go”?

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However, there’s a problem with that mentality for me. In my life, that becomes a slippery slope into lackadaisical thinking about everything: diet, exercise, health, and ultimately, my self-image. I know I should put myself first, but I also recently realized that I couldn’t stop caring for my body for the sake of my kids.

So here’s the deal. It’s not news that our kids watch our every move, copying everything we do and say (Lord, please forgive me). If I stop caring about my self-image, my four-year-old doesn’t really get the early education about the importance of loving yourself. I know you’ve probably heard the opposite. Don’t put an emphasis on makeup, clothing, or being skinny. Let the kids see you loving your natural, authentic self no matter what. And I don’t disagree. However, we must respect the fine line between being hypercritical and trying to perfect our bodies and respecting ourselves and the importance of feeling good about our bodies based on what works for us.

For example, dinnertime. So very easily our dinnertime turns into “whatever the kids will eat.” And that’s OK some days. The problem is I might not want to eat that, but I’ll decide it’s easier. Pasta is usually a winner, and it’s easy. However, while pasta is delicious and a staple, I would prefer to keep it healthier at times. I need to remember to make the extra effort to cook healthy, sell healthy to my children, and continuously help them try new foods. Overall, they rock at it, but it’s amazing how helpful it is for them to hear me say, “Wow! This makes me feel so good and strong. I love feeling healthy!”

As a result, I’ve worked extra hard to think about ways to integrate my positive self-talk into our daily lives. Some days are easier than others, believe me. But, the E for effort is huge here. Here are top five exercises that help me do so:

  1. Shared positive words in the mirror. We do a morning five. My son is too young, but my four-year old daughter and I stand in front of the mirror together and we each say five things we like about our bodies and then we share five things we love about each other’s body. (It’s good practice for learning how to compliment and for accepting compliments.) She normally compliments my earrings or my dress (because that’s the only acceptable clothing choice these days). I focus on body parts. For example: “I LOVE my smile,” or, “My eyes are looking extra sparkly today because I’m excited about our day!” Side note: Her giant smile as I compliment her is absolutely priceless.
  2. Child-led exercise. This isn’t an hour of cardio, folks. It’s not even 30. I’m talking 5–10 minutes of an exercise of your kid’s choice. I normally ask her to think of a fun exercise that we can do (sometimes even including her little brother) that makes her feel happy about her body. She really likes stretching and doing windmills with her arms (she sees this happen before and after I run). She’s the boss and makes them up as we go. We also do laps around the house (sometimes in princess dresses). The point is not to tone my muscles, but to help her feel insanely powerful in choice. We talk about muscles, strength, and keeping our heart strong. For the record, nine times out of 10 the chosen exercise is a dance party in the playroom. Again, priceless and so insanely fun.
  3. Dress-up. This is such a confidence builder: Letting your kids engage in pretend play and feel good about what they choose to wear. For my daughter, the ultimate treat is a princess dress, hair salon play, and turquoise eye shadow (which takes days upon days to remove). My two-year-old son is in love with her princess tiara and cape. They prance and like to be “introduced” into a room. This makes them feel good and happy with themselves. What the heck is wrong with that? Not a thing, in my opinion. As long as there is a conversation about how makeup is fun, but does not “make us pretty.” We are pretty as God made us, but we can also love the look of makeup, too…for fun. My daughter will not wear makeup in any other environment until much later, but that’s me. It’s a funny concept to me, because I never cared much about it, but LOVED watching my mom put on her lipstick in the mornings. So, I get the attraction, and I believe there is not a darn thing wrong with it, so long as it’s a treat and not a need.
  4. Love notes. We have a thing in our house for love notes. My husband and I keep a journal of love notes to each other by the back door, and my daughter knows I love a good written affirmation. She can’t even read yet, but she finds them and comes running for me to read to her. They tell her she’s strong; she’s smart; she has great muscles; her heart is kind; she has a smile that will light up the room; she’s a good friend. These truths are obvious confidence boosters, and there is just something so personal about a note. We then talk about whether she agrees with me (a tool I use to help her think about herself, separate from my opinions). Usually she agrees, but every so often she’ll say something that surprises me, like “yeah, my smile is great, and that’s because I brush my teeth and keep them so white!” She pays attention to what she likes about her smile, which makes my heart happy. Love notes are a great way to sneak in a fun ritual and keep the conversations going.
  5. Grocery shopping leader. This is one of those things that you only do when you’ve got time. And we’ve all got plenty of that, right? But in all seriousness, this is a really great way to get your children involved in the store AND boost their decision-making confidence. What I like to do is obviously have an idea of what I need before we begin. For example, I know I’m making spaghetti and meatballs for dinner with a salad. I have Chloe help me think of things to put in our salad that would be healthy and delicious. From there, she knows what we like as a family and suggests tomato and then helps me pick a few out. Sometimes I suggest a green vegetable that we can slice up (she suggests cucumber, and then helps to pick them out). I then have her direct me to the butcher to pick out the meat for the meatballs. She feels so proud when we check out, and it keeps her happy in the store. Win-win. Plus, it’s great interaction between us, and she learns quite a bit about healthy food choices and lifestyle.

All of this to say, there are plenty of ways to engage your children in their connection with their bodies and their self-image. These are a few easy ones, but the truth is you have to throw your “heart and self” into it to make it work. This means getting your own self-image in check. I don’t have to love my body every second to be a good role model for them; I just have to be honest. And the truth is, if I’m being honest, my mom bod needs a bit of work and a bit less wine, but I’m working on it. The last—and in my opinion, the best—lesson is one in authenticity. Let your kids know that some days you feel good and some days you don’t, and as long as you’re working on what you aren’t happy with, you’re headed in the right direction. Never give up. Never settle, especially on your self.

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