Raising a pre-teen or teenage daughter (or son) is not easy and can cause any parent a lot of stress. There's so much to worry about -- dating, drugs, alcohol, sex, school grades, just to name a few. But one crucial element often gets overlooked until it manifests itself in extreme ways (like through an eating disorder). I'm talking about self-image. It's extremely important that parents ensure that their children have a positive self-image, especially in relation to their body.
The key to ensuring strong self-esteem and a positive body image starts with the parent. If you don't feel positive about your self-image, then how can you expect your children to? While this is important for both daughters and sons, it is especially critical for raising a healthy daughter. And beginning the lessons when a girl is young is imperative, so don't wait until it's too late -- teaching your daughter to feel good about her body needs to start at a very young age.
Eating disorder experts say girls are developing eating disorders as young as 5 and 6 years old. And a recent study indicated that 70% of the sixth-grade girls they surveyed said they began worrying about their weight between ages 9 and 11. Why are so many young girls thinking that they are fat? Many are obsessing about their weight because they have parents who are preoccupied with their own poor body images.
While the statistics are disheartening, the good news is that there's a lot that can be done to help our children have positive self-images. And, even small changes that parents make can help. Here are few tips to help your children avoid warped and negative body images:
Establish a "no diet talk" rule. When your children are nearby, DON'T talk about dieting or how fat you feel! This is extremely important. Remember, kids are listening all the time (even when you think that they aren't -- especially then). So, even though asking your spouse or friend "do I look fat in this?" may seem innocent, it can have a life-altering effect on your kids when they repeatedly hear it.
Parents aren't the only adults that influence their children. Set the "no diet talk" rule mentioned above for all adults that are around your children. This means you shouldn't allow your friends, parents, siblings, neighbors, or anyone else to talk about being fat or being on a diet when they are around your children.
Set a good example. If your children never see you engage in fitness or if they hear you complain about working out, then they are going to have a negative image of exercise. Let them know that you workout to stay healthy, to be strong and to have more energy and stamina (so you can keep up with them)!
Get your kids involved in sports. Experts say that playing sports really helps build confidence and improves self-esteem (especially for girls).
Teach your children to include physical activity as part of their daily routine. But don't force them to exercise. Make sure that the physical activity is seen as something fun to do rather than teaching them to think of exercise as a necessary evil. Good activities include taking a nightly family walk, turning off the t.v. and instead turning music on that you all can dance to, or taking a weekend family bike ride.
Try to prepare (or if you are short are time purchase) healthy meals. And teach them the importance of good nutrition. Don't let them have the misconception that there are "good" and "bad" foods. If a kid thinks that candy is a "bad" food, then naturally they will just want it more. Just try to encourage your kids to eat a balanced diet each day and to eat sugary or fatty foods in moderation.
Remember that something as small as talking about losing weight in front of your kids can have very detrimental effects on their self-image as they age. Damaging behavior learned from a parent at a young age can take years for a child to overcome. So, the sooner you start incorporating the tips above into your life, the better for you child. But don't forget that it has to start with you -- make sure that you are incorporating healthy fitness and eating rituals into your daily routine and that you have a positive body image (no matter what your size or shape is)!
About the author: Lynn Bode is a certified personal trainer specializing in Internet-based fitness programs. She founded Workouts For You, which provides affordable online exercise programs that are custom designed for each individual. Visit: http://www.workoutsforyou.com for a free sample workout and to sign-up for their monthly fitness newsletter. Fitness professionals, visit: http://www.trainerforce.com
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