Nurturing your child’s relationship with their body & food!
One of our many jobs as parents (or carers) is to support a positive body image and relationship with food for our kids. This is no easy feat, and is made more complicated by external influences - everyone comments about our kids external features and everyone makes judgement calls about different foods - this comes from medical professionals, teachers, other kids, friends, family and even strangers.
But the importance of this is high. We want kids to grow up confident, with respect for their individual bodies and with a healthy relationship with all kinds of food. We want kids to be able to enjoy all foods, without obsessions or preoccupations.
To start with the food first, below are a few concepts you may want to consider:
We want to normalise intake of cakes, chocolate, ice cream, sausage rolls, chips and other such foods. Ofcourse kids are going to get excited about having a birthday cake or an ice cream by the beach - but we dont want to make a huge deal of these foods. If kids think of these as forbidden or “bad” there is a good chance they will obsess about these foods, over eat these foods when given the opportunity or develop bad habits around these foods when they grow up. Ways to normalise these foods is to include them semi regularly as part of meals and snacks without placing an emphasis on them, and also by not using these (or any) food as a reward or coping mechanism.
Food should be talked about neutrally - no good or bad foods, no treat foods or junk food nights etc. All food has a place, unless it’s dirty, mouldy, old etc. Begin to think yourself, that the sharing of a cake or eating pizza with friends has roles in providing connection, joy, pleasure and good taste. Talk about this with your child when these foods come up.
Children need structure with food and meal times (ie not unlimited grazing) but at a set meal or snack time kids should be able to eat as much or as little as they like or need. No comments about if they are eating too much or only eating certain parts of the meal. These comments can give the child the impression that eating a big serve is bad, when they actually might be extra hungry after a big day running. Or any comments about focusing on certain foods can discourage children from some foods and place a higher interest in the forbidden foods they shouldn’t eat too much off. We can however educate our kids about what food does for our bodies eg talk about green vegetables making comfy poos (do this seperate from the meal time not to place any pressure on them eg when cooking or shopping or playing games).
Be a good role model - Eat balanced meals and snacks, don’t follow unnecessary restrictive diets that your kids may copy ie missing breakfast or avoiding carbohydrates.
When talking to kids about their bodies, below are a few things to consider:
Resist the urge to compliment our kids too much about physical characteristics. Ofcourse we can do this sometimes, but instead focus on complimenting them on things they have some control over ie smiling in a photo, being happy, being kind, picking a funky outfit.
Celebrate different bodies. When your kids point out different looking people in the shops, talk about how it’s cool they have pink hair or that they are super tall - emphasis that this just makes them different to others (no better or worse, just different)! Talk positively about one sibling having curly hair and one straight hair. Make associations to different parts of nature, such as flowers and animals, all being different but all being special.
Be a good role model - this is one of the most important ones! Don’t put yourself down or complain about your weight in front of your kids. Talk about loving every part of your body and being thankful for your body. Talk about your strong legs helping you walk up the stairs and your cuddly tummy that grew your babies. Our kids will learn greater respect and appreciation for their bodies, and often it’s something us adults need reminding of.
These are a few things to think about to support your children’s relationships with food and their bodies. Best of luck x