Growing up, a huge emphasis is put on your size, how much you eat, how little you eat, etc. Just a few weeks ago, I got a scale to help me manage my eating habits and weight. My one-year-old daughter watched me weigh myself every morning. After a few days, she wanted to do it as well. She now pulls the scale out for me and jumps on. While she is too little to understand the number on the scale, she won’t be forever.
How do we teach our children to be healthy? How do we keep them from obsessing over the scale and comparing themselves to the kids around them?
As a personal trainer and youth sports coach, I have spent a lot of time on the subject. I have talked with so many parents and worked with them to help raise healthy kids. Now as a mother myself, it is even more relevant to me. I don’t ever want one of my children to skip a meal because they are “too fat”. To teach our children to have a healthy life and relationship with their bodies, we need to start by changing a few things.
Start with you
Our children watch us constantly. Just like my daughter and the scale, your child learns habits from you. If you are constantly yo-yo dieting and bashing on your body, they will also look for the “flaws” in their own body. If you’re on a diet and trying to lose weight, don’t talk about the weight loss or lack thereof around your kids. Talk about how much better you feel. Talk about how eating healthy and exercising makes you feel happy and more energetic. Focus on the positives that are related to healthy eating and exercise, not just weight loss.
Teach about the benefits of certain foods
When we call food bad or good, it creates an unhealthy relationship. We automatically feel bad for eating a cookie because it is a “bad” food. There are no “good” or “bad” foods. Food is fuel and some make you stronger than others. For example, cookies make you happy but they don’t fuel your body to run faster like vegetables do. Teach your children that vegetables and fruit make you faster. That protein makes you stronger. That a cookie doesn’t turn you into a superhero, spinach does.
Don’t use food as a reward
This one is the hardest. I find myself offering my daughter a cookie in exchange for good behavior all the time. Sweets should be treated just like any other food. If you plan on having a treat after dinner then set them on the table with your meal. Don’t make them out to be overly special so your children don’t form an emotional attachment to them. For example, when I am feeling depressed, I automatically reach for ice cream. It was a reward for my family growing up and I still use it that way. Teaching kids that food is just food will help decrease emotional eating or reward eating.
Make exercise a family event
If you want active kids then you also need to be active. Spend time with your kids doing activities that get the whole family moving. Whether it is bike riding, walking, hiking, rock climbing, or playing a sport, choose activities that will help your child get moving. Moving their body is so important. Don’t make your kids “exercise” so they don’t gain weight. Put them in activities that encourage movement and make them happy. If your child isn’t sporty, just encourage walks or hiking together. Whatever works for your family, do it!
Stop worrying about size
Size in children is a horrible way to determine health. If your child is active and eating nutritious foods then you shouldn’t be worried. Don’t make their health about the pant size they wear; make it about how they feel and what they are doing. Connect health to their mood and energy levels.