It’s not easy being a parent these days. Between embracing technology and monitoring screen times, encouraging creativity and protecting privacy - trying to walk the line between sometimes opposing messages and raise kids who are excited about the world and yet safe. One such challenging balance is the one between body positivity and educating kids for a healthy lifestyle. This is actually not supposed to be a conundrum. After all, what’s more healthy than liking the body you're in, nurturing it and taking care of it? And what's more positive than being healthy?
Before we dive into this, here’s the definition for body positivity:
Body positivity is a social movement rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image, while challenging the ways in which society presents and views the physical body. The movement advocates the acceptance of all bodies regardless of physical ability, size, gender, race, or appearance.
As you can see, body positivity is all about acceptance. And as a pediatrician specializing in obesity I’m 100% behind it. When we discuss weight wellness, it’s key to remember that we are not speaking about a “one size fits all” weight or body type. What parents should strive for is a happy, energetic kid who is able to focus and thrive. It is too often that I see parents that are judging their kids for how they look and how much they weigh, and view their children as merely a reflection of themselves - which might trigger some emotions they haven’t dealt with.
Here are a few important elements to consider when striving to teach your kids to love themselves and maintain healthy habits:
Before educating your kids, make sure that you are aware of the cycles they are going through. Most of us are aware of the attitude changes, hormones, hungers and even smells that adolescence comes with, but have you considered the changing distribution of body mass through your child’s pre-teens, for example? Make sure to be well-read and consult with your pediatrician to know what to expect and how to support your kid through these sometimes emotionally taxing changes.
It’s Not Them
Your child may be overeating - and that’s something you might need to help them overcome, but please take the anger and anxiety out of the equation. Remember, as a parent you are the one dictating and providing the structure; You’re the one in charge of shopping, cooking and the access that your children have to healthy (or not so healthy) food.
Body positivity and healthy habits have a lot in common. In fact, you could say that body positivity IS the emotional equivalents of healthy habits. Just like your child looks up to you to model healthy eating and physical activity, so do they do when it comes to registering how you speak to about your body, what faces you pull when looking at a mirror, and how you react to a compliment. There’s no alternative to personal example.
Don’t Wait for a Problem
Make sure you have a pediatrician who specializes in weight wellness. Going to the doctor might seem like something you do only once you have exhausted every other channel - from blog posts, to nutritionists and health coaches - but in fact, this isn’t true. Expert pediatricians have the medical knowledge to integrate between activity and food, extend you tools and facts that you might not get elsewhere and offer guidance for both you and your kid. When you frame going to the doctor as an exciting excursion where both of you will learn about healthier habits, you avoid arriving at the doctor’s when frustration and even resentment have already accumulated. This makes the entire experience of caring for the body a positive, fun and emotionally healthy one, and also helps introduce another caring, trustworthy adult whom your child can confide in even as they hit their teens and might be embarrassed to share some questions with you.