How to build up your children’s self-esteem and body image

Love thyself.

Yes, that’s what I said. Love thyself – especially if your body is not to your liking. It’s one of the most important things to teach your child.

I thought of how times have changed from the past few generations until now as I was reading a blog post by Kim Bongiorno entitled, Teaching My Daughter to Love Her Future Body.

The writer talks of a conversation between her and her five-year old daughter who tells her mother that she has fat legs. She remembered a similar discussion with her own mother who had tried to save her   from gaining weight by admonishing her about what she was eating.

Instead of being ashamed of her legs, as her own mother had been,  Bongiorno talked about the beauty of developing curves as a girl becomes a woman.

It was a valuable teaching moment and  Bongiorno handled it in an amazing way.

Do you hide from view in the summertime?© Anc_q | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Do you hide from view in the summertime?
© Anc_q | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

In my nutrition counselling practice, I see many women who want to lose weight. During our sessions, I always ask about family members and children. Our discussions include the eating styles of other family members and whether weight is an issue.  Nowadays, many mothers don’t want their children to struggle with the same restrictive parental guidance as they had.

Yet the message they pass on to their youngsters is often the opposite of what they want.

Why?

Because they treat themselves badly –  talk about their eating behaviour in a derogatory manner or restrict their activities because of  how they’ll look in certain clothes because they’re overweight.

The case of a 12-year old boy is a perfect example. His mother brought him to see me because he had simply stopped eating. The parents were stumped as to what was going on, whether there were some food intolerances or such.

Firstly,  I wanted to weigh him to have some data on his height and weight. But before he got on the scale, he asked me if he could take his shoes off first and then commented that he had just consumed a lot of water.  I knew right then that he was starving himself.

Most young boys could be wearing work boots and wouldn’t give it a thought. Afterwards when I talked to his mother and asked about any weight issues he might have, she told me that he had never been overweight. “Not like me. I’m a pig and can’t control what I eat. I’m horrible.”

There it was – right in front of me. His mother couldn’t stand her eating behaviour. A few strategic questions of the son and his issues were clear.  He felt like he might be getting a little chubby and how would anyone, even his parents,  like him if he started becoming like his mother.

I ask women who seek my advice for weight loss whether they wear bathing suits or shorts in front of their kids.  What’s the message you give your kids if you won’t enjoy yourself?  It’s simple: overweight people are not deserving of  enjoying  themselves by participating in activities like swimming or should not be comfortable in clothing that may expose  imperfect bodies.

Kids are smart. If you want them to like themselves, it’s time to step up to the plate and like yourself first.

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What do you think of how Kim Bongiorno handled the situation? Do you agree with me?

Who has been a major influence – positive or negative-  in your life as to what you think women should look like?

In discussing this post with my daughter, she talked about how Lena Dunham is changing the depiction of how women on TV should look. I’d love your feedback for a post next week.

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Categories: Rosie's Rants, Weight Management

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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