Do you remember this post? It was going around about a month ago. The mom found a note written by her 7-year old daughter listing all of the ways her daughter was going to lose weight. The mom was understandably upset and she was also flabbergasted because, “Our attitudes are reasonable and balanced. Weight has never been an issue in our home – it is, for the most part, irrelevant.” Later the mom finds out that her daughter learned about dieting from another little girl.
I’m glad the writer shared this story with us because it’s a reminder that our kids talk to other kids. And even if weight seems irrelevant in our homes, it is relevant out there in the rest of the world so we need to talk about it — explicitly and often. You want to be the boss of this conversation, right? Certainly you don’t want the media to dictate how your child feels about herself. And you don’t want other kids in charge of whether or not your daughter feels pretty. That’s why you have to talk about it.
Help your kids be critical
Point out the lack of body diversity in the media and explain why we see only one kind of body on TV. Make a point of celebrating all kinds of bodies, definitely. But you also need to talk about how not everyone thinks all kinds of bodies are just right. Explain that this is a prejudice that your family doesn’t participate in. (And you don’t, right? You don’t talk about your weight or your friends’ weight or how fat your favorite actor has gotten, do you? Because that’s gotta stop.)
Talk before their friends do
Head off the diet talk your child will inevitably hear from friends by talking about it right now. Tell them that sooner or later someone they love will call themselves fat or compare their size to someone else. Sooner or later someone will tell your child that she is too fat or too skinny; it’s inevitable. I tell kids that children — especially in the tween/teen ages when they’re trying to figure out what the heck is going on with their bodies — do a lot of comparing and they talk about these comparisons. They say, “Why do your thighs touch? Why do you have an outie instead of an innie? Gosh, your arms are so bony!” It’s going to happen but you can limit some of the harm by talking about it now. That way when another little kid on the soccer team says, “You’re eating fries?!? Don’t you care about getting fat?” your child will have an answer ready. I know this is hard for a lot of parents because they hope if they don’t bring it up their child won’t have to deal with it. Trust me, they’re dealing with it. This is the soup we’re all swimming in and as Don Draper says, “If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation.” I know the guy’s a louse but he has a point here.
Diet really is a four letter word
Diets are bad for kids and other living things. Food deprivation — not eating when we’re hungry, not eating until we’re full — screws up our metabolisms and there are a slew of studies that show they are especially bad for children. Calorie restriction (says the research) actually makes children fatter. Really. And it also messes with their natural ability to read their bodies’ satiety signals.
Eat more ice cream
This is why you have to eat regular old “junk” food now and then. Now I’m not telling you to hit the golden arches every time you have your child buckled into the car seat but you do need to teach them how to be competent eaters. That means not avoiding a whole class of delicious food because it doesn’t meet high nutritional standards. Denying is tatamount to dieting and remember we need to avoid that. Our children need to see us eating food for fun and for celebration and because it’s delicious. They need to see us model enjoying our food and not feeling guilty about it. They need to see us push our plates away when we’re full and dive in full of enthusiasm when we’re hungry. We need to learn to be competent eaters, too.
Don’t demonize food
I know this is hard, especially when we’re having such intense discussions about organic and go local and factory farming. These are important discussions to have but when our kids are young they need to figure out how to listen to their bodies first and foremost. I worry when I hear about parents showing their young children Fast Food Nation or Forks Over Knives. These documentaries can get in the way of a child’s natural ability to understand appetite. You can live out your values in ways that help our kids instead of harm them. By all means, go to your local farmer’s market and get everything you need to make a big, beautiful salad but don’t beat yourself up (and definitely don’t do it in front of your child) if you end up at the local Big Box supermarket picking up non-organic lettuce some weekend. Likewise you can help your child talk about how he feels after he eats a box of sour gummy worms without shaming him. Kids are going to eat too much sometimes. Eating is opportunity to learn, which means sometimes eating too much or too little or not what our bodies want. Making mistakes is part of the process.