When I was 11 or 12, my mom took me shopping for a new bathing suit. When she suggested a style that was popular at that time, a one-piece tank suit with a large circle cut out on the stomach area, I told her, “I’m too fat too wear one of those.” I have no idea why this particular memory sticks in my head, but I also remember how upset my mom was with what I said. I didn’t understand her distress then, but I certainly understand it now.
Everywhere I look, it seems like there are drastic cases of kids and unhealthy lifestyles. On one side, there are 400 pound teenagers having gastric bypass surgery to save their lives, and on the other side there are skeletal celebrities on TV and 17 Magazine proclaiming, “Get A Smaller Butt By The First Day Of School.”
Although my children are only 5 and 3, I feel like the seeds of discontent with one’s physical self (and by extension, one’s inner self) start to grow early, and I don’t ever intend to stand in the middle of Macy’s and listen to my daughter tell me she’s too fat for a bathing suit.
To drive home the message of how important it is to take care of yourself, I started using a phrase borrowed from my mother-in-law. I once heard her tell my 5 year old that we only get one body in our lives, so you have to take care of it to make it last. In our household, “One Body” has become our catch phrase for everything from eating healthfully to making sure we get enough sleep.
Still, I worry that my children will fall victim to advertising, peer pressure and airbrushed images. It’s my opinion that poor self image will sabotage efforts in everything from grades to relationships, so I’m much more interested in fostering healthy self esteem in my children than I am in teaching my 5 year old how to read.
Some of the things we do to encourage healthy habits are:
- We eat dinner as a family almost every night. According to a study at Columbia University, teens who eat dinner with their families six to seven times a week are almost 50 percent more likely to remain substance-free than teens who eat dinner with their families twice a week or less. Teens who eat dinner often with their families are more likely to have better grades, lower stress levels and healthier diets.
- When possible, the kids help me prepare dinner, and even if all they did was press the buttons on the microwave, they are more likely to try a food if they “cooked” it.
- I frequently take both kids grocery shopping with me, and while we shop, we talk about good foods and how they help keep you healthy. I usually let my 5 year old pick out one or two items to try at home, and it’s interesting to see what he chooses. For example, one day he wanted to buy “junk food” and picked out a box of Fruity Cheerios. Another day he opted for pears and broccoli.
- We try to avoid the words “fat,” “skinny,” and “diet” in our conversations.
- I try to silence my inner critic and make sure I never say negative things about myself in front of my kids.
- We stay active. We try to include physical activities when we do things as a family, such as hiking or ice skating. Weather permitting, I get my kids outside to ride bikes or just wander around the neighborhood frequently. We walk instead of driving places when possible.
- I include my kids in my workouts. We do yoga before bedtime. I’m also training for a half marathon later this year, and when I do my outdoor runs, I take my son along on his bike to keep me motivated.
- We try to focus not on what we can’t do, but what we can. I might not be able to fit into my jeans from high school, but I can lift 175 pounds on the leg press at the gym. My son can’t dribble a basketball, but he can ride for miles on his bike.
- I have been very open with my kids about my diet soda habit and the fact that I’m not happy with it, it’s not a good choice, and that I’m struggling to quit it. I think it’s important for kids to see that adults also struggle with temptation, and the value in trying to do better.
- We practice the 80-20 rule. If 80% of what my kids eat and do are healthy choices, I don’t worry about the other 20%, be it watching TV or the hot dogs they eat when grandma comes over.
I think the One Body mantra has been good for me too. We joined a gym last year and while my main goal at that time was to lose a little weight, my whole outlook has changed. I did lose about 9 pounds in the 10 months we’ve been members, but the other changes are much more drastic. I’m sleeping better, feeling better and have more energy. My body looks healthy and strong. And in the kitchen, instead of paying attention to fat grams and calories, my food choices are much more influenced by how that food will make me feel, if it’s a food that will help build up my One Body.
I have years to go before my kids are teenagers, but hopefully the steps we are taking now will teach them to make good choices and take care of their precious bodies.
How about you? What methods do you use to teach your kids about being healthy and what have you found most helpful? Those of you with teenagers, do you feel there is strong pressure for kids to be thin?