So I had one of those fabulous mommy moments tonight, (you know the kind when you realize something you've been trying worked), when my 3-year-old child was praying and told God that she was thankful for her "awesome body." We talk a lot about bodies at our house because for one, I have three daughters, for two I expect that some of them are going to deal with body image issues at some point, and finally I feel that my best strategy for dealing with said body image issues is prevention. I want my kids to love themselves and feel good in their skin.
How do you teach girls to have a positive body image? My goal has been to teach them to love and appreciate their bodies for the complex machines that they are. We talk often about all the amazing things our bodies can do. Sometimes in the car on the way to school each child will get a chance to say their favorite thing that their body does for them, or when someone gets and owie we talk about our cool bodies and how they are self fixing. They are fascinated as we talk about blood and how it makes their own special bandaid and how they can grow new skin. We also talk about their immune systems and how their soldiers (immune system) fight the bad guys (the germs) so to help their soldiers out they have to get enough sleep and eat their fruits and veggies. Sometimes, when they have eaten a particularly healthy bite of food, I applaud them on behalf of their soldiers making a big deal of how grateful their body is for the healthy food. They laugh, but make the connection to how important healthy habits are and they think about the choices they are making.
Exercise is another favorite at our house. I get up entirely too early most mornings to work out, and my girls know it. I heard one of them make the comment once that about my getting skinny (or not) and I knew it was time to give their exercise focus. We don't exercise to be skinny, we do it to take care of our bodies and have fun of course. Over time I have come up with a list of ideas for getting kids to have a great time exercising and having quality mom and kid time while doing it.
Play Workout Instructor:
- Outdoor: Soccer, frisby, bike/scooter/whatever riding to you have tag (even the teenage neighbors play that one with us), crawl tag, roll tag, roller skating and racing.
- Indoor: Crawl tag, jump rope, sock wars, soft bean bag wars, and dancing.
My kids have all taken some kind of gymnastics, dance or other sport so they know how to stretch and do a few exercises. I let each of them take turns leading the "class" in a series of exercises. Most of the time they do moves that you've seen before, but occasionally it can get very creative (for lack of a better term.) Either way they are moving and having fun.
Let them shadow you:
My workout time is some of my only alone time during the day, and I have to get up pretty early to get it, so I don't feel like sharing it most of the time. However, on occasion I agree to let one or more of the older girls come workout with me downstairs. They love telling me how I am not following the workout dvd correctly and trying to figure it out themselves. When I'm not able/willing to share my workout time in the morning I sometimes let them try out the treadmill later in the day. Evidently there are few things more awesome than a treadmill. Everyone wants a turn, and they all want to go the longest and fastest and beat each other. We have a chart now where they are competing against themselves and their previous distance and speed. It gives them something to work towards and something to feel accomplished about.
Doccument their progress:
When I work out I can see the difference on the scale or in the jean size that I wear. For my kids, we don't talk about their weight or size as a goal for working out. They are simply doing it for health. So how do you keep them motivated and feeling the glory of progress? First, I regularly point out the progress I see that they are making whether that be how long they can hold a handstand or how deep their push up is. I also allow them to have charts to keep track of their improvements. I have also noticed that they love the ability to compete so placing them in a sport or entering with them into a short distance race. Running short races is amazing because the environment of finishing being the goal rather than winning. My kids also dig the freebies at the end and the T-shirts.
The most important thing is to keep trying, try new things and focus on health and caring for these amazing bodies that we have. This attitude will rub off on your children and give them a confidence and appreciation for themselves that is critical to their physical and emotional well being. It's working for us, so I hope you find a way to make it work for you.