Helping your child navigate the challenges of body image begins early on. Instill the confidence they need to carve out their own path.
BY: CRYSTAL KARGES, MS, RDN, IBCLC
Bringing up a child in our world and culture today can be a scary and overwhelming thing. We are constantly bombarded with information about how to best raise our kids. With everything from disciplining to screen time to how we feed our children and everything in between, things can feel complicated.
The underlying theme: we all want what’s best for our child.
You want nothing more than for your child to grow up healthy, strong, and confident. You want to raise a human being that becomes a capable adult, able to thrive in life, and reach their fullest potential in whatever avenue they choose to pursue.
And in a world that is increasingly focused on the superficial, how do you instill a sense of purpose and identity? Everything in our society screams to our children that they are their body shape, their size, and how much they weigh.
Even from young ages, our children hear the message that food is not safe, that they cannot trust their bodies.
Parents are also bombarded with fear-mongering messages that cause them to question how they are feeding our children and whether they are doing all the right things for them nutritionally. There’s a lot of concern and frustration, and you’re not alone. Here are a few reminders that may help you as you work through this.
1. BE AT PEACE WITH YOUR CHILD’S BODY AND NATURAL SIZE.
Your child’s body may not fit the standard of what our society says is acceptable, and that is okay. You may hear causes for concern from well-meaning people, and that may make you wonder if your child is really okay. You may even observe your child begin to feel uneasy or critical about their own body, as they become more aware of how the world may view them.
The lens of the world can be harsh at best, as weight is scrutinized and stereotyped. How can you trust that your child is at a healthy weight when all the world may be screaming otherwise? Because weight or body size does not determine their health or reflect the quality of their life.
2. HELP YOUR CHILD BUILD TRUST WITH THEIR OWN BODIES.
How can you help your child feel comfortable in their own skin, just as society seems to begin picking them apart? Your child’s health and well-being encompasses so much more than their weight and body size. They may not fit into society’s distorted standard of what is acceptable, but that does not make them (or you) flawed. Your child’s normal weight for them is a place where they are able to thrive in every aspect of their life.
Your child is already born with an innate ability to know how much they need to eat to grow normally for their body type, including how to balance their eating, growth, and activity.
Regardless of what the growth charts say or how the percentile ranges or how BMI is calculated, you don’t need to worry about your child growing normally – this will happen naturally with sound feeding practices and by maintaining the quality of your feeding relationship.
As a parent, you can ultimately help support your child to grow in the way that’s right for them by trusting yourself, and helping them do the same with themselves. This begins with accepting and feeling good about the body your child currently has, not the one society has said they should have.
3. ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL DOESN’T EXIST.
A normal weight for your child is the place they naturally fall when eating a variety of foods that they enjoy and feel good about eating. Your child has a natural way of growing that is right for them; this may not align with society’s standard, nor should it be expected to.
Trying to change your child’s shape or size, or influence them to eat less or more can potentially backfire.
Trust your child to eat the amount that is right for THEM. Your child may eat a little or a lot, or be small or big by society’s definition, but can ultimately grow up to get the body that is right for them, without any interference on the parents’ part.
As parents, the focus is on our responsibility of how we feed our children and let our children do their jobs with eating. By staying focused on the things we can control, such as what we are offering our children to eat and when we are providing regular meals and snacks, our children can do their jobs with eating. By maintaining a relaxed, low-pressure environment around feeding and food, our children can feel more at home in their own bodies as they grow into a place that is right for them.
If you are feeling overwhelmed in this journey of raising a healthy child in our world today, know that you are not alone. Seek out the help of communities and professionals who can support you through this process. Most of all, trust that you are the best parent for your child, and you are raising your child to do well with a lifetime of eating.
You’ve got this.
Adapted from the original article.
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Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones. Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.