If the idea of your kids encountering expressions like “fresh year, fresh start” unsettles you, then this is for you as a millennial. I have become accustomed to witnessing a surge of health and wellness pointers at the start of each year. I am fortunate that these no longer impact me, but I aim to ensure that my children are not influenced by the prevailing diet culture rhetoric that accompanies January.
This concern is valid; research indicates that children under 6 can experience dissatisfaction with their bodies, and parents have a significant role in shaping their children’s body image. It can be daunting to address this issue, considering the widespread discussions related to diets. Whether it’s family members discussing “unhealthy” foods during holiday meals or media portraying unattainable body standards, it’s challenging to avoid.
Instead of attempting to disregard it, take a deep breath and get ready to confront this important issue directly. Continue reading for a few suggestions on how to shield your children from diet culture in the upcoming year.
Initiate a dialogue
One of the essential yet demanding aspects of parenting is maintaining open communication, and this applies here as well. Depending on your child’s age, commence the discussion on body image and healthy behaviors. Ask for their thoughts and allow their responses to guide the conversation. Share your views on maintaining a healthy body and reassure them that all bodies are good.
Aim for food impartiality in your home
Words are important, but actions matter too. Promote food neutrality at home by not labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Let them simply be food. If feasible, permit your kids to select a few items at the grocery store to taste, irrespective of their nutritional value. Indulge in a variety of foods in their presence. Aim to make food as neutral as possible.
Supervise media intake
I would not recommend eliminating media from your child’s life, but it’s wise to oversee it. Ensure that your child consumes age-appropriate media and establish time restrictions. If a specific show promotes body shaming, exclude it from your playlist. Be mindful of social media, as it has been associated with body image problems in children.
Give compliments disconnected from appearance
While it’s natural to praise your child’s appearance, try to incorporate compliments and encouragement not based on their looks. Acknowledge their physical abilities (e.g., “you jumped so high!”) or their efforts (“you worked hard on that puzzle!”). This shows that they are valued for their actions rather than their appearance.
Refrain from conversations focused on weight or appearance
As adults, we might still engage in discussions about weight and appearance to some extent. However, it’s best to keep these conversations away from children. If weight becomes a topic at a gathering, remove yourself and your child from the room if possible. If comfortable, ask family and friends to avoid such discussions around your children.
Highlight the capabilities of bodies (and minds)
Our society often prioritizes appearance, so let’s change that. Make it a habit to acknowledge the remarkable abilities of people rather than focusing on their looks. Instead of commenting on how individuals look while engaging in sports, praise their agility, speed, etc. Highlight the effort required to create art, compose music, or write books. By shifting the focus from appearance to abilities, your children will also develop this mindset.
Finally, do your best! This can be a challenging time of year for many, particularly if you are working through your own body issues and attempting to deflect diet culture. Remember that the most impactful thing you can do is model the positive habits and attitudes you want your children to embrace throughout their lives.