What I want to instill in my kids when it comes to food, movement, and body size.
Food: Ability to self regulate. Have happy family memories of us around food.
I’m more concerned with developing emotional regulation skills in my kids than I am in what I put on their plate or what they choose to eat off of their plate. I want to mess with their food as little as possible, but since I’m their external frontal lobe at the moment, there is guidance I offer as I see fit (“we’re not having back to back to back fruit snacks”). I want them to have family memories that involve food being enjoyable and fun – Slider Mondays, swimming + homemade pizza + ice cream night, hot chocolate in the bath tub because why not, and really good Tex-Mex. However, eating disorder prevention for them is on my mind and since the function of an eating disorder is emotional regulation…that is going to be my focus since I already know they will grow up in a home without any dieting or self-harm in the form of misuse of food or exercise. If adults have permission to eat all foods, they are less likely to use food as a coping mechanism. I’ve found it mostly helpful to listen to Dr. Becky’s podcast (even though sometimes I have this reaction of “don’t tell me how to parent!”), Good Inside, for emotional regulation ideas. In a recent episode she talked about modeling realistic regulation to our kids. For instance, not “…and then I take a deep breath and I try again and everything is great!”, but instead talking them through the mess and difficulty when you are trying to cope with something. She said, “When we are dealing with something less than ideal the best that you get is coping with it and accepting it. Tolerating it enough to stay engaged, creative and involved.” Also, “The most powerful moments with kids are when our kids just happen to notice us doing something, whether it was planned prior or not. For instance, realistic regulation may look like saying, This didn’t go the way I wanted, I can get through this and still make it great.”
I don’t have this figured out. The hardest part of parenting littles may be their incessant asking for snacks! It’s crazy-making! And, I can still stink at emotional regulation, but I think that’s all great for kids to see. Post-covid we’ve had a couple birthday parties and it’s so nice to see the girls self regulate with party type of foods. It feels like a big win for me as I navigate keeping their innate intuitive eating abilities intact. There are plenty of times when feeding them that I don’t know if xyz is the right choice, but I focus on offering a variety of foods and holding limits around food as our family has defined them. I also find it hard to hold limits around food for them…mainly because the whining is so activating and exhausting and it lands me in a place of I don’t really care about this limit if I’m worn down.
Exercise: Movement as play.
Thanks to the opportunity I’ve had working with clients, I’ve seen if an adult doesn’t have memories from childhood of movement being play (hide-n-go-seek, summers spent swimming, etc.) and instead only has memories of movement as punishment or it being forced because someone is trying to get them to lose weight, then it is difficult for them to find movement as an adult that is enjoyable and fun. In our home, movement is never about calorie burn or getting in steps. I model listening to my body for my kids. I might say, “My legs are tired, I’m going to sit.” Or, “I have a lot of energy, I’m excited to go to my ninja class.” Or, “Anyone want to go for a bike ride with me? I feel like being outside?”
Body Size: Bodies are for doing things and we take good care of our bodies.
Your body is for doing things. Not looking a certain way. I hope to walk the line well of there is nothing wrong with physical beauty and caring about how you look, but making sure those beauty pursuits are enjoyable (wearing makeup or fashion can be a creative expression) and they don’t feel like they have to do them. Pursuit of physical beauty shouldn’t get in the way or prevent you from doing what you’d like to do with your time.
In our home, we don’t ever criticize our bodies or other people’s bodies. I imagine as the girls age there will be chances to have more conversations around when I’m having bad body image days and how I work through that. Being able to share with them the reality of being a woman in our culture and the expectations put on our bodies that we can notice and choose what we want to do with. It is a reality that my kids won’t always like how they look or feel in their body and I hope to raise kids who can come to me with that…or at least have seen me model how I handle that. I like many of the conversations The Full Bloom Podcast has offered up on how to raise kids with positive body image. I don’t want my kids to feel like they’ve failed if they have negative body image, but rather it’s a normal thing to experience and here is how we can cope. In August or September, I’m planning to host a webinar on positive body image and how to develop a body image routine unique and helpful to you. More on that later.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I wanted to share a few things that have been on my mind. When it comes to your kids (present or future), what do you want to instill in them when it comes to food, movement, and body size?