By Chelsea Hester

In a world that is populated with diets, food advertisements, and models of only certain shapes and colors, children of all ages are being bombarded by external messages about who they ‘should’ be and what they ‘should’ look like daily. These messages, if not countered by a supportive home environment, can put unnecessary pressure on children to be someone they are not. Childhood is a time for exploration, discovery and authentic expression. Unfortunately this process can be stifled when a child feels inadequate or as if there is a standard they must meet, specifically in regards to their body shape or food preferences. Over time such pressure can put children at a predisposition for depression, anxiety, disruptive behavior, isolation or eating disorders… just to name a few. Having negative self-esteem makes life harder on many levels.

As a parent, there are small shifts you can make at home to help your children feel safe and loved for being who they are. Although acceptance would ideally happen on all levels–body, mind and spirit–these tips are centered on helping your children feel comfortable in their bodies and creating a healthy relationship with food.

  1. As a parent, place your attention where you want your children to place their attention. Try to focus on your child’s strengths and inner qualities, rather than his/her outer appearance. Rather than offering compliments based on temporary conditions, try naming the qualities in your child that are unwavering and start on the inside.
  2. Avoid labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ No food is inherently better or worse than any other. The psychological implications of eating a ‘bad’ food can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment and secrecy.
  3. Model, model, model. Try to be aware of your own biases or judgements about your body and food rules. By setting a healthy example for your children, they will receive different messages than the media or peers may be sending them.
  4. Monitor the amount of negative self-talk that is present in your home. When self-deprecating language is used, get curious. Who first told you or your child the message you are now telling yourself? If the negative thought is simply untrue, bust the myth. If the presented struggle does hold some truth, try to reframe this ‘weakness’ as an area of growth and offer ways you can support yourself or your children in strengthening this aspect of themselves.
  5. If the majority of your meals take place on-the-go, in between baseball games and gymnastics or sitting in front of a T.V. after a long day, try setting aside time during the week to occasionally eat without distractions. By placing conscious attention on meal times, you and your children will better be able to gauge hunger/fullness levels, relish in the pleasure of eating and stay present with each other through the dining experience.
  6. Allow room for conversation in your home about bodies! Explore the idea that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, explaining that people on television and in magazines are often altered. Normalize what real people look like, bumps, rolls, scars, freckles and all.

I wish you all the best on your journey of self-love and promoting the same in your family home!

**These tips are not all-inclusive and certainly are not meant to minimize or oversimplify the challenges that may arise if your child is in the throes of an eating disorder. Please consult a professional if you or your child could use support beyond that described here.  

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