Q. “I’m all for body positivity (really!) and I agree that confidence is important, but don’t you think that at some point confidence becomes too much and we start going in the opposite direction and living unhealthy lives with fast food and sedentary jobs? How do we navigate that and teach our children to be body confident without implying that it’s okay to be obese as long as they’re happy? I’m unsure how to approach this with my daughters. When does body confidence go too far?”
– Amy

anastasia amour body image photo-1419090960390-4969330366ab body positive kids

Amy, great question! This is something that I get a lot of parents asking me about – mainly parents who struggle to some degree with their own health or self-esteem and want to ensure not to pass those same struggles onto their children. Wanting to raise mentally as well as physically healthy children is commendable, as mental health is sadly something that a lot of parents overlook.

Let’s break this question down into 4 key themes:

  • Food
  • Exercise
  • Confidence
  • Notions of “enough” and “too much” vs “insufficient” and “not enough”

Now obviously, we don’t want our kids to have restrictive-based eating disorders, but nor do we want them to eat low-nutrient foods and never exercise, putting themselves at risk of other issues.

So how do we help them to find a balance?

The key to helping our children reach a balance lies in having an open and honest dialogue at all ends of the spectrum, and keeping the focus on positive, healthy ways to move your body to help it function.

Note the emphasis on function, not appearance.

At no point do we ever need to be telling our children to eat less to be skinny, to eat more so they develop “curves” or to work out so they look good in a bikini.

Instead, we need to approach fitness and nutrition from the perspective of highlighting the multitude of benefits that they can bring to a person’s life.

For instance, exercise isn’t just great for maintaining a person’s weight, but it’s a wonderful stress reliever. Proper nutrition won’t just keep you at a healthy weight, but it will help your organs and muscles to be strong, which helps you lift heavy things and kick balls and walk around with your friends.

When talking to your kids about food, it’s crucial to be mindful of your own bias that might be slipping out – years of exposure to diet culture can easily infect its way into your vocabulary without you realising!

Try not to talk about food in terms of “good” and “bad” or “cheat days” or “safe foods” – instead, teach your children that foods are emotionally neutral. Some foods can be fuels and like cars, our bodies require different types of fuel for different purposes. Some foods are low-nutrient but bring high pleasure, and it’s okay to eat those foods too.

When complimenting your children, try not to focus exclusively on physical compliments. By telling them that their body is the most notable thing about them – good or bad – you’re setting them up to define themselves by their bodies.

Remind your children that living a healthy life is not about “counteracting” poor diet with exercise, nor is it about “levelling out” excessive exercise with an excessive diet… it’s about balance.

Remind them that their worth as a person has nothing to do with their weight – because contrary to popular belief, focusing on their weight as a cornerstone of their identity will actually push them towards negative behaviours, not positive ones.

RELATED: What is body positivity?

Physical and mental health work best in tandem – and that’s where body positivity comes in.

Body positivity isn’t about justifying poor lifestyle habits because, “Oh it’s okay, I love myself always so it doesn’t matter!” – it instead simply implies a mindset wherein every action you take for your body is nourished from a place of self-love, rather than punishment or self-loathing.

Exercise is to make you feel good, and keep your body working well. Exercise is fun because you know that moving your body in ways that are fun for you is the best way to keep at it.

Nutrition isn’t complicated – it’s easy to eat a balance of healthy foods and foods that you love when you don’t attach connotations of guilt, shame and fear to your diet.

Flaws don’t have to be scrutinised – instead, you’re able to look at them with a view of acceptance. This doesn’t mean that you don’t work on improving yourself, but rather that you don’t aim for perfection as a goal.

What is self love? - by Anastasia Amour @ www.anastasiaamour.com

Body confidence is all about taking care of yourself from a place of love and self-respect – and THAT is worth teaching to our children!

This is also a great time to do some introspection and assess your own view of yourself.

What is your relationship with food like? How do you feel about exercise? Do you find yourself shaming and judging others (or yourself) verbally in front of your children?

You have the opportunity to lead by example, so your question makes a great prompt to look within yourself and ask yourself what you’re showing your kids – because kids may be small but they are perceptive. If you tell them one thing but show them another, they’ll pick up on it (whether they vocalise that inconsistency or not).

The key takeaway here:

Body positivity is about respecting yourself mentally AND physically Click To Tweet

Remember, whatever message you send your kids about their bodies, diet and exercise will have a lasting impact on them, good or bad.

Without highly emotionally charged connotations around weight, food, exercise and self-esteem, if your children do happen to develop an issue around any of those topics, you’ll be paving the way for an easier dialogue that doesn’t shame or guilt your children into negative behaviours.

And if we teach our kids to approach body confidence from a place of nourishment and self-respect rather than arrogance and complacency, they’ll be set up with the building blocks to live awesome, healthy lives.

{P.S. If you’re looking for guidelines to approach body positivity with your kids, Inside Out can help.}

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