Having a daughter changed my life and, as she gets older, I’m realizing that she is still changing it. My daughter is 6, she’s thoughtful, funny, empathetic, kind, and introspective and, as she’s growing, she is becoming more and more perceptive of the things we do and say around her. As a parent, it’s my responsibility to make sure that Emma has all the tools she needs to live a happy and healthy life. I don’t want to equip her with things like negative self-talk, body image issues, or a preoccupation with how much she weighs (which is an imperfect indicator of one’s health, anyways).
Talking about weight can be a tricky topic for anybody, at any age. What I want to focus on with my daughter is healthfulness more than anything! Healthy foods, sleeping well, and getting exercise are what I want to show her: not a number on a scale.
I will explain to her that we eat healthy foods because we want to be strong!
Yummy, these carrots will keep us from getting sick!
These tomatoes help our hearts beat strong and steady!
I will emphasize exercise and explain why it's so good for our bodies and our minds.
Let's go for a walk together to clear our minds.
You've been riding your bike so much, your legs are strong!
There are many ways to emphasize health over body image, even if the balance seems tricky sometimes. We can normalize that bodies come in all shapes and sizes! One clever trick I read recently was, if your child says or overhears something like “that person is fat!” you can respond with “They also have ten fingers and ten toes!” This shifts the focus from someone's size to something neutral: fingers and toes! This response also highlights an ability: fingers that can dial a phone and toes that can kick a soccer ball. Neutralizing the topic of weight and size helps children understand that these are not "good" or "bad" markers of a person, especially themselves.
Healthy habits are something I want myself and my daughter to practice for life! Making them sustainable is key. Maintaining regular sleep, meal and snack times, and exercise are pillars of health that I want to teach Emma.
Some habits I do not practice (for the health of both of us) include:
Mirror Talk or Negative Self-Talk
I mean sentences like “One day I’ll fit into these jeans” or “I’m so fat right now.” If my daughter overhears this, how will it make her feel? I never want her to think “ I look huge in this shirt” or “I’m growing out of these shorts, am I fat?”
Obsessively weighing Myself
What if she sees this and starts to compare her weight to other friends she sees? You cannot put a number on overall health, why exhibit behaviours that enforce that notion?
Sorting foods into “good” and “bad” categories
I truly believe that foods aren’t just good or bad, all kinds of foods are delicious! However, there are some foods that are more nourishing but that doesn’t make their alternatives aren’t “bad.” Our family has foods that we only enjoy sometimes because they’re not as healthy as the foods we eat everyday and that is okay!
- Enjoying all kinds of foods
- Providing healthy meals and snacks every day
- Exercising and including the whole family!
- Valuing sleep and rest
- I love my cute belly
- My body is strong!
- Our bodies do so much for us
- I like eating these foods so I have energy to play with you!
It's important to share with my daughter these positive messages about health and our relationships with our bodies. Conversations about weight and health can be tricky with kids. Aside from talking about it, I know that I can model good habits! When Emma is grown up, I don't want her to think about how she looks in a bathing suit or how many calories she eats in a day. I want her to be able to remember going swimming and having fun with her parents, eating great big family meals, and being so incredibly loved. If she looks back and remembers these habits and values, she'll know that it's not about her weight, it's all about her happiness and her health.