Kids are sponges. They hear far more than they let on, and then are usually left to interpret what they hear without the benefit of an adult to explain the bigger picture or the complex realities that make that picture what it is. It can be dangerous, especially when we're talking about the formation of their self-worth. That's why I have rules for talking to my kid about your body, whether you're a friend or a relative or a coach or a teacher or, well, anyone at all.
I used to be one of those people who constantly spewed negative self-talk everywhere and anywhere. For most of my life, I've hated my body, and made sure pretty much everyone knew about it. When I had my first kid, though, I made a decision not to share those negative feelings around her. I decided it was important to show my kids that bodies are just bodies, not things to be ashamed of or want to change. I can't say that this choice is easy to uphold or that I don't fail from time-to-time, but it's one I'm committed to continuing. How I think about myself will impact how my children think about themselves, and I don't them thinking that their mother (who they love and admire and consider to be "perfect") hates her body.
I also don't want my kids to grow up wondering why their grandmother hates the way she looks and thinks she needs to lose weight. I don't want my kids to wonder why that family friend that they think looks so beautiful is talking about needing to cover up the circles under her eyes. I know my friends and family will still feel this way, but I want to do everything in my power to prevent my kids from following people down that road of self-hate. So, with that in mind, here are nine rules for talking to my kid about your body:
Don't Talk About Being "Fat," Especially When You're Not
Regardless of whether you think you're fat and you're using "fat" in a negative or derogatory way (whether you're actually struggling with your weight or not) when you talk about it in front of little ears, you are implying this is something that they need to be concerned about, too. They don't. They need to be concerned with playing. You're also implying that being fat is a bad thing. It isn't.
Don't Talk About "Needing" Makeup
You don't actually need to wear makeup. Making comments about, "Oh wow, you can't even see my eyes right now, they're so small! I need to put on mascara!" is not only untrue, it potentially makes my kid feel like they need to wear makeup, too.
Don't Say You Need To Lose Weight
Maybe you need to lose weight. Maybe you don't. I don't care, because the only time my kids should be hearing about weight is at their annual physical. They shouldn't be thinking about their own weight our counting calories or trying to fit in some "weight class" our society has arbitrarily decided is "acceptable," but if they hear other people concerned about weight, they may begin to focus on it as well.
Do Talk About The Strength Of Your Body
Can you lift weights, or run a certain distance? Sing it to the mountaintops! I firmly believe we should all be proud of what our bodies can do, and when you say so in front of my kids, they are being shown a positive role model.
Do Talk About Feeling Beautiful
Some kids learn,6 ASE by watching others, that it's somehow cool to put yourself down. Don't we all do it, to a degree? I know I fight the tendency. What we should be talking about in front of our kids is our own beauty, so that they know that it's not only OK to feel beautiful, it's actually amazing.
Do Talk About Loving Yourself
We all need a bit more self-love, so if you do love your body, please tell my kids. Like I said before, so many people think it's somehow good to be self-deprecating, but no child should be doing that. If you're willing to be that good example for my child (and not everyone is, because it's damn hard to do), then please, talk to them about loving yourself.
Don't Hate On Any Body Parts You May Not Like
These days, it's incredibly hard to hold back my comments about my stomach, which is the biggest it's ever been. I have always had a tiny waist, but it just hasn't been the same since my second baby. My kids, however, adore my soft belly. My son often rests his head on it. What do you think would happen if I started hating on that part of me that they love so much?
Don't Talk About Needing To Change Parts Of Your Body
The moment you start talking about wishing your body was different in some way or another, is the moment any kid within hearing range will be wondering what they need to change about their body.
Do Remember That My Kid Looks Up To You, And Will Emulate You
I still remember sitting around a campfire with a bunch of mom friends, long after the young kids had gone to sleep. Everyone started talking about how much weight they had gained, and how they hated this body part or that, and all I could think about was my preteen stepdaughter, whom everyone had forgotten about, quietly listening to every word. Children are always listening, and we need to remember that.