Any parent who’s let a swear word slip around their child knows how quickly they pick up on things.
Kids are impressionable. They’re also always watching the adults they love and taking subconscious notes on how to interact with the world.
That means your kids are picking up on your eating and exercise habits. They’re also taking note of your relationship with food and your body.
The number one motivator I see with my clients is that they want to improve their relationship with their body and food in order to set a good example for their kids.
It’s never too late for you (or them) to learn. So if you’re reading this and you have adult children, you’re still on the hook for setting a healthy example.
One of the responsibilities that goes along with parenthood is being someone that your children look to for cues and advice on how to be in the world. That’s still the case, even when your kids are fully grown adults themselves.
Here are some ways that you, as the parent, can set a healthy body image example for your kids (of any age).
Don’t make food “good” or “bad”
This is a mindset mistake I see often. People bring morality (judgements of good/bad, right/wrong) into their vocabulary around food. This sends the message that a person is good/bad based on their food choices. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone for eating a cupcake, which would otherwise be enjoyable.
When we overemphasize certain foods as being bad or special, it puts them on a pedestal. This creates an emotional reaction to those foods that wouldn’t otherwise be there.
When you pair that emotional association with the chemical reactions in the body from the sugar, carbohydrates, salt, fat (typical in treat foods) the emotional state experienced around these foods is heightened reinforcing the thought pattern.
The same thing happens when food is used as a reward for good grades, or good behaviour. Typically this is done with treat foods. We then create the association of junk food with good behaviour, which sets us up for problems as we get older.
Avoid emphasizing appearance over personal qualities
When a child grows up with the majority of the compliments they receive being about their physical appearance, they associate their value with the way they look. When they get positive reinforcement for something, they’ll naturally want to do more of it. This can lead to being hyper aware of their appearance or trying to control the way they look to seek validation from other people. This can plant the seed for eating disorders as the child gets older.
Instead of giving compliments and validation for appearance, try reinforcing positive behaviour qualities. Things like kindness, generosity, creativity, intuition, good decision making, or hard work put toward their activities. These behaviours have nothing to do with body image or appearance, making them healthy things to reinforce and celebrate.
Watch your self-talk
Children of any age will take cues from their parents’ relationship to their bodies. If you’re self-conscious at family gatherings, or put down your appearance in pictures, the people around you will pick up on that.
From a young age, children learn how to treat their bodies based on how they see their parents treating themselves. Parents who put themselves down or get upset over their physical appearance are teaching their children to do the same.
It’s not realistic to think that you won’t ever have concerns about the way you look. But the way you handle those bad body image days will set an example for the people around you.
The more you can respect yourself and your body by speaking kindly about yourself, the better you’ll feel, and you’ll set a healthier example for others.
Be conscious of role models
We all grow up idolizing the characters we see on TV, or celebrities in magazines. It’s no secret that these images have been carefully crafted (and most of the time altered) to fit with society’s standard of beauty. It’s hard to escape these influences, but you do have control over what comes into your home.
Beauty and fashion magazines are not healthy role models, regardless of your age. It’s easy to limit access to these by not bringing them into the house. But you might not have thought of the social influences your kids are exposed to.
I’ll never forget when I was 19 trying on clothes with my girlfriend who was obsessing over her thighs. Up until that point, I’d never considered that my thighs could be “fat” or the “wrong shape.” It never occured to me to be self-conscious about that part of my body, but once she introduced me to the thought I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
Associations are powerful. As a parent it’s impossible to oversee every relationship your child has, and that wouldn’t be healthy either. Instead focus on setting the tone for body positivity at home. The strength of your example will stand up against outside influences.
It’s ok to be a work in progress
Self-acceptance comes from being okay with yourself the way you are. We all have our individual life circumstances to thank for the way we look and feel in our bodies today. That’s part of what makes us unique. When you spend time wishing you were different, it promotes an unhealthy self-image and lowers your self-esteem.
Working toward goals in your health and fitness can be a great thing, but not if it’s leading you to feel ashamed of where you’re at right now. The energy you carry on a daily basis will determine how happy you feel, and that’s what will rub off on those around you. Aim for adopting a mindset of being ok with yourself as a work in progress. This will show your kids (or grandkids) that they can love and accept themselves the way they are, even while working toward a goal.
It’s never too late to ask for help
You’re never too old to be a positive role model for your loved ones. After all, we learn how to behave from watching the people around us. Which means we’re never too old to pass on our problems.
For example, if you struggle with emotional eating, your kids will pick up on this pattern and are more likely to relate to food the way you do. If there’s an area of your relationship with food or your body that you need to heal, you can set a healthy example by seeking support.
It’s never too late to ask for help with improving your relationship with food and your body. If there’s a body image pattern or food habit that you haven’t been able to solve, chances are your kids will experience the same and also not know how to resolve it.
It’s not up to you to have all the answers, but you can lead by example in seeking the support necessary to overcome your challenges. This shows courage, determination and self-love, which sets a healthy example that you’ll want your children to follow.
Ready to overcome your challenges with food or body image? Book your complimentary Body-Love Breakthrough Call today to gain clarity on the best next steps for you.
When you create a healthy mindset around your body and food, your kids will follow your example. The way you take care of yourself is the way they learn to take care of themselves.
You don’t have to be perfect to set a good example for your kids. They’ll learn from the way you stand up to your challenges and effort toward being the healthiest version of you.