FEATURE — Acceptance is important to everyone, but for a child, it is critical. The degree to which a child feels accepted by their peers has been correlated to a number of things: self-confidence, high self-esteem and the ability to perform well at tasks they are given. In short, children who love and accept themselves are generally loved and accepted by those around them.
The self-esteem spectrum is a reality, and while children can fall anywhere on this spectrum, way too many fall on the low end because of the prevalence of childhood obesity in this decade. Even for adults, physical and emotional health are very difficult to separate. Imagine how hard it must be for a child to think about health.
However, when talking about a sensitive issue like weight, the stress must be on the health factors. Taking a child to a physician for weight issues is important because it may be easier for the child to correlate their weight with health. Scale weight should not be monitored by parents. It should be a gauge of health and measured by the physician, just like blood pressure and heart rate.
When encouraging children to think about health, remember that words matter. Kids hear everything that adults say. If a parent does a great job at telling their child to love their body but makes negative comments about their own body, the child will know that the parent is not sincere.
Dieting and body shaming are so common in our culture that many people are not even aware they are saying anything negative at all. When children hear their parents shaming their own bodies, it is tough for them not to do the same. The parents’ job at home is to lead by example.
The following are some ideas to help your children gain functioning knowledge of what it means to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives:
Focus on healthy eating. Don’t have snack drawers that are available to children all day long. Be consistent with meal times and snack times. Keep healthy fruits, raw vegetables and high-protein snacks around at all times. Get rid of sugary drinks, and encourage water.
Set small, attainable goals that the whole family can be working on together for long-term health.
Start early with healthy eating to instill patterns and habits at a young age. Allow your child to be part of the decision-making process. Take them to the grocery store and allow them to cook with you.
As a parent, you pick and present the food options while your child makes the selection on what to eat, allowing them the freedom to choose what interests them. At the same time, you can rest assured that a balanced meal was presented. This helps children to feel empowered to make their own healthy choices even when you are not around.
Families should try to eat meals together. Children are more likely to eat healthier and to try new foods if they see others eating them. Family meals also slow us down when eating so that we recognize when we are getting full. Don’t make your children clean their plate if they say they are full and they have eaten a fair amount from their plates.
Keep the environment around meal times calm. Distraction can pull your child’s attention away from what is on their plate. Turn off the TV.
Respect the child’s level of hunger. Hunger levels will vary significantly because of growth spurts and activity levels. A child’s serving portion is the size of the fist, palm and thumb of their hand, not the parent’s hand.
Don’t make food the enemy. Avoid shame and guilt around eating “unhealthy.” Moderation is important. By keeping the unhealthy choices out of the house, you avoid the unhealthy options.
Encourage positive thoughts about a healthy, strong body and what one’s body can accomplish rather than what it looks like in the mirror.
Model good exercising habits. If children see their parents or an adult get on a bicycle, they are more likely to follow that path. If parents plop down and watch TV after work or when they get home from school, it is likely that the children will follow their example.
Discuss physical activity rather than exercise. Exercise is a planned, structured fitness regimen. Activity is any kind of movement that requires energy. It doesn’t have to be much, but it needs to be consistent.
The hope is that all children can learn the importance of taking care of their bodies through a healthy balance of foods and activities. A healthy body image comes from acceptance of your own body, liking your own body and taking care of your own body. Listen to your child and be aware.
Reflect on your own willingness to make healthy selections and work together with your child. Nourish and keep your children strong. Lead by example. Children are always watching their biggest influencer and as a parent, that is you!
Written by DR. COLEEN ANDRUSS with Healthy Lifestyles.
This article was originally published in the May/June 2022 issue of St. George Health and Wellness magazine.
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