Updated: Jan 12
Have you ever interacted with a child? Ever?
You have influence.
You have power.
The words you say and the actions you take matter.
Whether you're a parent, teacher, sibling, coach, or friend, YOU can make a lasting impact on the way children relate to food and their bodies.
Here are the top 4 ways to ensure your impact is positive and intentional.
OWN YOUR STUFF
The first step in any process is increasing your awareness and knowledge about the topic.
This means you're need to begin examining your own food and body stories before you can help children with theirs.
Recognize your biases. Notice your thought patterns.
What tendencies do you have during mealtimes?
What's your process like when grocery shopping?
How do you feel about small bodies? Large bodies? Curvy bodies? Straight bodies?
What is your self talk like when trying on bathing suits in the dressing room?
This step is very active, intentional, and conscious.
You must make the choice to examine your own preferences and biases which can be difficult to do. But so important.
Once you get to know your tendencies and preferences, start paying close attention to how you behave, what actions you take, and what words you say out loud.
Children pick up on things from a very early age.
I recently had a friend tell me she overheard her 4 year old saying "I'm out of shape" when she was trying to carry something heavy and was struggling to do so.
Children notice the phrases we say, the words we mumble, and the faces we make at our reflections in the mirror.
How do you talk about yourself when you see your reflection?
What words are you using to describe certain foods?
What words are you saying at dinner parties?
Do you comment on other people's bodies?
WHAT CAN YOU CONTROL?
One thing is certain: You can't control other people's thoughts and actions.
If you're a parent, you can't control what your children hear at school.
If you're a teacher, you can't control what mealtimes are like at home.
All you can control is YOU, YOUR interactions, and the environment of YOUR space.
👉 My top recommendation for mealtimes: Family meals and no media.
Children need to be present with their food and their bodies. This is how they learn their preferences and get in touch with their hunger/fullness levels. Media is distracting.
Family meals provide consistency and predictability, two things children crave and need to feel secure.
✨Want to spice up your mealtimes?
Download these 10 FREE Mindful Eating Ideas✨
👉 Be mindful of the commercials children see on tv, advertisements they hear on the radio, and magazine covers they are exposed to.
No matter what role you play in a child's life, you have control of the messages they receive in your presence.
If you're a health professional with a waiting area that serves children, remove magazines with diet talk or references to weight.
Children see these images. Whether consciously or unconsciously, children are processing "good/bad" & "right/wrong" ways to look and eat daily.
👉 Be sure to have children's books representing body diversity in your book collection. Here's an incredible list to get you started!
👉 Have conversations with children about their inner qualities rather than their appearance.
👉 Steer towards neutral language around food. Avoid polarizing words like good/bad, healthy/unhealthy. Try describing food using objective adjectives like "crunchy, red, fruit, nutrient dense, contains animal fat, etc."
TEAR AND REPAIR
✨THIS IS SO IMPORTANT✨
You're going to have slip ups, awkward conversations, or talk about your body in a way that's critical or unkind sometimes.
Oopsies will happen.
Rather than sitting in guilt and beating yourself up for "ruining your child's relationship with food," use small ruptures as opportunities to come together and repair the wound.
This might mean circling back to a comment you said previously.
"You know honey, I've been thinking about the way I talked about Aunt Sue's new diet and I wish I would have said that differently. Here's what I was thinking and here's what I really meant..."
Or naming one of your own struggles.
"I know I was really hard on myself when we went shopping together last week. I've been feeling really icky about the way I talked in front of you. I struggle to love my body sometimes too. I'm not necessarily proud of that, but I want you to know I'm working on it and I want to do whatever I can to support you in your relationship with your body as well."
Naming and discussing your process helps your child know that it's okay to talk to you about these topics.
It also helps your children see that "loving ourselves" is multi-dimensional and complex. It's a journey. A process.
YOU ARE AMAZING.
You can change lives.
You can impact children every single day.
And those children could shape how future generations feel about food and their bodies for years to come.
No interaction is too small.
No words are too short.
You can make a difference.
Let's make it a positive one. ❤