It’s never too early to start teaching your child about healthy lifestyle choices, nor should you wait to help them adopt a positive body image. In fact, research has shown that kindergartners are already making judgments based on weight. Therefore, earlier is better when it comes to teaching your child about health and self-confidence.
It’s always important to praise your child when they accomplish a skill or try new things. The support and encouragement they feel from you will help them build confidence in their own abilities. This will in turn foster their development into an independent person and re-direct them from placing too much value in physical appearance.
Be a ‘Healthy’ Role Model
Children learn directly from what their parents are saying and doing. Therefore, it is vital that you as a parent focus on healthy behaviors – i.e. being active, eating nutritious foods – rather than talking about needing to lose weight or judging others based on weight or appearance. Play outside together as a family, go to parks, play sports, ride bikes, go for family walks. Eat nutritious meals and snacks at home, including lots of fruits, vegetables and water. Teach your children that they will feel better and have more energy as long as they are staying active and eating in a healthy way. Also, refrain from gossiping about others in front of your child. Ensure that you are always showing your child a positive attitude when it comes to being inclusive, tolerant and accepting of other people, no matter their size or shape.
Reinforce Positive Behaviors
Compliment your child when he or she makes good grades, shares with a friend or helps you with a household chore. When your child knows that you feel proud, those behaviors will more likely become habit. Also, try not to focus on “weight loss” in your home. If your child does lose some medically necessary weight, compliment your child for his or her new eating habits or for performing well during an extracurricular activity (i.e. swim lessons, baseball game, soccer practice, etc.). A pre-occupation about weight loss or dieting could lead to obsessive behaviors later on.
Limit Exposure to TV & Other Media
Be careful of what your children are exposed to through television, magazines, advertising and the Internet. Remember that your child is probably paying attention if you have the TV on in the background or if your favorite magazine is sitting on the coffee table. Too many provocative images or adult themes can have a negative impact on your child’s emotional health and development. Limiting and monitoring your child’s screen time will always have a positive impact.
Open Communication is Key
The more you communicate openly and honestly with your child, the more your child will come to you with problems, questions and concerns, rather than turning to peers. This will help ensure your positive influence on their decisions and behaviors. And when it comes to finding the time to sit down and talk with your children, family mealtime, at least once per day, is always an important ritual to implement in your home.
Looking for More Advice & Support?
The WakeMed ENERGIZE! Program incorporates a family-centered approach to making healthy lifestyle changes through individual nutrition and exercise counseling, as well as health education. Learn more on our website or by calling 919-350-5955.
Julie Paul, RD, CDE, is a registered dietitian with WakeMed’s ENERGIZE! program.