As a parent, you hope to arm your children with a sense of self-fulfilment. We want our kids to be happy with who they are. But in a society that is obsessed with body perfection (mostly unrealistic and unattainable), how much control do we have? Can our words and actions counteract the endless messages being bombarded toward our kids by the media?
A new study published in Feminism and Psychology focuses on how Jewish mothers installed resilience in their daughters to combat body dissatisfaction, which can lead to eating disorders. The analysis revealed common ways these mums and daughters rejected the oppressive and stereotypical messages portrayed by the media. And how these mothers armed their daughters with the self-confidence needed to face the world positively. What it comes down to is open, honest and encouraging communication.
The methods used
Reserachers talked to mothers and daughters in the study to determine what helped create positive self-images. Some of the mothers interviewed reacalled how their own mothers' negative comments towards them about eating too much caused them to associate food with guilt and bad feelings. In turn, when it came to raising their own daughters, they focused on the quality of the food and the importance of making healthy food choices and how good it is for their bodies.
Some of the methods used to communicate positive body self-image were:
Filtering: being cautious and sensitive regarding body image issues.
Transmitting awareness: communicating with your children about the dangers of eating disorders, which can result in serious medical complications and even death.
Positive reinforcement: talking positively to your child about their body and avoiding negative language.
Discussion: talking opening about messaging from the media and providing your child with the tools needed to be critical of what they see and hear.
Positivity: shifting the focus from food and body appearance to health, nutrition and taking pleasure in healthy foods.
Exercise is a habit
Teaching our kids how to lead an active and healthy life is also important. But what about kids who aren’t naturally drawn to active hobbies such as sport? A new study found that it’s important not to pressure or guilt kids into exercise - it just doesn't work.
The study, from the University of Georgia, looked at kids in year six, seven and eight – a critical time in a child’s life as kids typically decrease their activity levels by 50 precent between 5th and 6th grade, according to Rod Dishman, the study’s lead author.
According to the study, kids who felt obligated to be more active were less likely to embrace activity overall. While kids who felt they could make their own decisions about exercise were more likely to see themselves as a person who exercises, which in turn made them more likely to exercise.
The upshot of the study is that it's important kids develop the habit of exercise before they reach year 6 or 7 so that they can identify themselves as a person who is active, which will in turn make them more active.
How you can help
If you’re a mother or father, it’s important to remember you’re being watched! Kids do what you do more than what you say. If you’re eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and looking after your body, your kids will emulate that behaviour. Being positive about your body is important. Talk about how strong you are and how fit you are and nix the language that revolves around losing weight or dieting or being unhappy with a certain area of your body.
When it comes to creating exercise as a habit for your kids, its important not to pressure or guilt them into activity. Making kids feel guilty doesn’t work. Rather, focus on activity for the sake of fun. Be active together and make it a valuable part of your family’s quality time. Here are some ideas to encourage more active time as a whole family.
- Go for a hike. Find a local walk you can do with your kids and make it a special family outing on the weekend.
- Hire bikes. Riding bikes together is a great way to get the whole family moving.
- Have a handball competition. Get some chalk and draw a court on your driveway or in your garage and host a family handball comp.
- Get a friend to join in. Sometimes all kids need is a friend to help join in the fun. Sign your child and their friend up for a weekly class together or see if they'd like to join a team together.
- Try something new – if the weather permits, try stand up paddle boarding or indoor rock climbing.
- Sign up for a charity walk or run. Look for a local event the whole family can do. Use it as your motivation to train and get moving.
- Garden together! If you need some work done around the house, get the whole family involved. Play some music while you work to keep you all upbeat. End the job with a healthy snack and a cool glass of water.
- Play frisbee or kick a ball in the park or at the beach. If you enjoy a weekend BBQ bring such activities with you so that you move as well as eat!
- Sneak it in – park further away from school, so you all have to walk further. Suggest you take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to the corner store together if you need to pick up milk or bread.
- See who takes the most steps. Buy a pedometer and share it around. See who takes the most steps in a day.
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