Three Ways to Teach Our Kids Their Bodies Are Not Just for Looks
By Melissa Martineau
Our kids are constantly bombarded with images about how their bodies should look. From the moment they wake up, televisions, billboards, and even peers at school celebrate computerized, filtered views of an impossible beauty standard. It can be overwhelming trying to escape the way our society and culture have glorified and determined the importance of our physical appearance. This sad perception that physical beauty is the highest standard of existence often leads our kids to having a negative body image and the feeling that they will never measure up.
So, how can we help our children combat the negative ways they may look at themselves?
One of the most critical things we can do to help our kids is to refuse to let them have social media accounts. Even at age 16 or 17, our children’s undeveloped brains are ill-equipped to deal with the pressures, criticism, sexualized imagery, and glorification of beauty, extreme dieting, and even eating disorders available on social media.
But even without social media, our kids are still exposed to many unhealthy voices and messages. These messages push their ideas onto our children about how their bodies should be shaped, used, and displayed. We must take time to help our kids understand that their bodies are so much more than what our society chooses to celebrate.
Here are three ways to teach our kids that their bodies are more than just for looks:
“Oh the places we can go,” Dr. Suess says! And it’s true. Our minds can be our greatest asset as we set goals to achieve scholastic endeavors and explore different career paths. As we help our kids understand the value of education and goal setting, we can teach them how their minds are such valuable assets and an important part of their bodies. With our mind, we are able to create a path forward, use our bodies how we want, and be a good example for those around us.
Some examples of ways we can improve our children’s minds include:
- Reading a book in a new genre with our kids
- Exploring a new talent or hobby together
- Practicing using positive self-talk with our kids
- Setting short term and long term goals as a family
- Researching a new topic that interests you and your children
Whether you want to be a track star or just love taking walks around your neighborhood, using our bodies for athleticism and movement is an integral part of our experience here on Earth. Teaching athleticism and showing our kids all that their bodies are capable of is essential to a healthy body image. Give them a few encouraging examples of this, such as professional athletes or olympians. Try using our lessons, “Teaching Your Child about Body Image” or “Teaching Healthy Body Image To Boys,” to help teach these ideas to our children. As we teach our kids how they should approach the task of maintaining a healthy body, it’s important they understand that “having a positive body image should always include a knowledge of what they need to stay strong and healthy.
Here are a few simple ideas to get you and your kids’ bodies moving:
- Biking and exploring your neighborhood
- Playing at the local park with family and friends
- Running relays at a local track
- Swimming at the public pool or local lakes
- Practicing yoga with the family
As humans, we feel our emotions very deeply. It’s crucial for us as parents to teach our kids healthy ways to manage their emotions, and to develop their natural abilities to nurture others and show kindness. As they use their emotions in a positive way to empathize and comfort those around them, they will cultivate more and more emotional intelligence.
It is also critical that we teach our kids to understand and control their emotions, especially in this digital age. This can be particularly difficult when they are surrounded by images and media that are altered and manipulated to confuse them and bring them down. These messages are constantly trying to make them feel “less than” or incomplete without a certain product, clothing item, or body type. Learning to recognize how these messages influence us is such an important skill for any child or adult living in our image-based culture.
In our book, Messages about Me: Sydney’s Story: A Girl’s Journey to Healthy Body Image, we feature some essential questions for adults and kids to help us understand these messages.
- What messages do our parents give us about our body?
- What messages do our friends and other people give us about our body?
- Have you ever tried to change things that changed things about our body because of the messages we see?
- And how do these messages make us feel?
Our bodies are more than just a before-and-after image! We are a beautiful work in progress. As we teach our kids these valuable principles, they too can learn to pay attention to how they feel as they work on their own positive body image without comparing themselves to others.
For more great discussions on healthy body image, check out our new children’s books: Messages About Me: Sydney’s Story: A Girl’s Journey to Healthy Body Image and Messages About Me: Wade’s Story: A Boy’s Quest for Healthy Body Image. Helpful features for parents and teachers include great conversation starters, workbook questions, and simple, meaningful activities.
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M. Martineau is an intern for Educate and Empower Kids and a student at BYU-Idaho. She is a mom of two, who is currently finishing up her marriage and family relationships degree before heading to graduate school shortly thereafter.