Teaching Our Kids Body Gratitude: A Critical Skill in Our Image-Saturated World
By Haley Johnson
We’ve all been there. Our mother, our friend, or a peer has said something that has caused us to look at our bodies and think, “I don’t like this. I don’t like me.” Casual comments can turn our favorite outfit into the trash because we can’t stand the idea that someone else thinks that dress or that shirt makes us look bad in some way. And now our young daughters are coming to us, telling us they can’t wear a certain outfit because it makes them look “fat.” They ask to borrow makeup so they can look “prettier” for a boy they think is cute or want to buy new clothes so they can look just like Selena Gomez, Jennifer Lawrence, or some YouTube celebrity.
Why does it seem most kids struggle with poor body image? Think for a moment about what our teenagers and children directly consume every day from television, billboards, social media, YouTube, or other internet sites. “We live in a culture where thinness and beauty are highly valued…Media images of ridiculously thin women are everywhere – television shows, movies, popular magazines” (Farrar, 2014). The idea that thinness is the standard for beauty is everywhere! We need to teach our daughters to be confident, happy, and self-assured no matter what kind of body they are living in. We want them to recognize true beauty does not come from societal standards but instead, is set by an inner barometer. This lack of body love and gratitude is even starting to affect our sons as well.
Here are some helpful tips that can help us teach our kids how their bodies are amazing despite what they may see or hear from media and others.
Teach them about body gratitude.
Did you know the system of blood vessels that runs your body, which includes arteries, veins, and capillaries, is over 60,000 miles long (Amazing Heart Facts, n.d.)? That’s amazing! Does your child know how their body functions and how hard it works to run itself with relatively little effort from the child personally? Let’s teach our children about their arms, legs, organs, and more.
The human body is simply incredible. It:
- Works most major body functions on its own.
- Grows and heals itself.
- Can be used to provide comfort to others by hugging and touching and talking.
- Adapts based on what we ask of it.
As human beings, we use our bodies every single day. Without a body, we are without being here on this earth. We need to be grateful for it, no matter what others may say or think about our personal body.
To help your child really understand body gratitude, try a simple exercise to find out what makes them happy about their body by asking these questions:
What do you love about your body?
What can you do with your body that makes you happy?
Can you use your body to help other people?
Do you like the way you feel when you run?
What do you appreciate the most about your body?
Do you appreciate that your legs carry you wherever you want to go?
Take a few moments when your child is down or feeling less confident to remind them what they love about their body and how to overcome those who would make them feel negatively about it.
Praise wisely, and give them a strong emotional base.
There is a lot of talk lately that praise is bad for your child (For more information on this, check out what Alfie Kohn has to say about the way we praise). It’s true that too much of the wrong kind of praise could negatively affect the way your child sees themselves and the world around them. However, we do want to help our child gain confidence from a trusted source, which is us. So let’s talk about the helpful, constructive kind of praise.
A lot of times we compliment our child based on something completely out of their control, such as having a clear complexion. We might say something like, “You are so beautiful. Look at your clear skin.” While this isn’t necessarily “bad,” compliments like this can bring on a false sense of security. What happens when your young child goes from having clear, shining skin to a teenager with tons of pimples? Are they still beautiful even though they have acne? Well of course, but they may not see it that way. They make think that because of their pimples, their beauty has diminished. So instead of compliments on physical characteristics, which are constantly changing, or natural-born abilities, focus your compliments on effort-based praise.
“Look for opportunities to compliment the way your child is approaching a task. Effort-based praise lets you tell your child you value not only him, but also his willingness to take risks and his determination to work toward his goals” (Morin, n.d.).
This is a wonderful way to boost your child’s confidence. If you tell her you see how hard she is working, or you notice she is making a deliberate effort to improve in some area, that is a powerful form of praise. For example, if your child plays an instrument, and you have seen them practicing and improving, let them know you have noticed their hard work and can hear a difference for the better. Or if your child is working hard to learn a difficult subject at school and is spending lots of time trying to conquer that, tell them you have watched them working and striving to be better, and you are proud of how hard they are working.
Your child will know you notice and care about who he is, but in addition to that, he will recognize some of his own strengths. He will get to see he is the one who changes his life for the better or worse, not other people. He will also see that YOU as his parent are going to be there for him and are willing to support him.
Teaching your kids about body gratitude and praising them wisely are two critical steps you can take as a parent to help your kids love their bodies for exactly what they are–which is a living, breathing, beautiful miracle.
It can be challenging raising kids in our image-saturated world, but you are not alone. Looking for more resources, especially on teaching kids how to love their bodies? Check out our books, Messages About Me: Sydney’s Story and Messages About Me: Wade’s Story, to find more ways to help our children understand how to be grateful for their bodies.
Haley Johnson has a Bachelor of Science in Marriage and Family Studies from Brigham Young University-Idaho. She is passionate about learning, especially when it comes to relationships and family life. She hopes to one day be able to educate on a worldwide setting in regards to promoting goodness in the family and destroying ideals that hurt society.
Farrar, T. (2014). Body Image of Women. Retrieved from http://www.mirror-mirror.org/body-image-of-women.htm
Amazing Heart Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2018, from http://www.arheart.com/heart-health/amazing-heart-facts/.
Morin, A. (n.d.). The Power of Praise. Retrieved from http://www.understood.org/en/friends-feelings/empowering-your-child/celebrating-successes/ways-praise-can-empower-kids-learning-issues