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Hearing "I'm Fat" From Your Child: 10 Meaningful Ways to Work Through the F Word


body image in kidsKids are exposed. They’re exposed nearly everyday to unrealistic body-weight ideals and photo-shopped physical expectations. Through the media, peer judgments at school, and spoken/unspoken messages at home, kids are absorbing these messages beginning at a very young age. It’s incredibly disheartening to you hear your child say “I’m Fat”, and unfortunately this is becoming more and more common.  The Common Sense Media report: Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image, found that twenty-six percent of five year olds recommend dieting as a solution for a person who has gained weight. By age six, children are aware of dieting and may have even tried it, and by the time kids reach age seven, one in four has engaged in some kind of dieting behavior.

 

In families across the country, there is a big push to understand the roles that body image and food play in our children’s lives. How do we get kids to share their ideas, perceptions and experiences without reinforcing shame? We compiled a list of 10 important ways we deal with this everyday, both in our therapy practices and on the home-front.

 Here are 10 conversation-sparking tips to encourage body positive language and help kids re-set body image ideals:

 1) Listen up! If you hear your child using the “F” word, saying "I look fat in this" or some variation, really try to understand what this means for them.  How do they define "fat"? Why is this bad? From whom or where have they heard this message? Knowing more about the meaning of this word for your child will help you integrate more body-positive language and thinking with them.

 2) Beware of the schoolyard bully! Pay close attention when you hear your child criticize his or her body or clothes. This is often peer driven, and it's important to know if your child's feelings are being hurt at school, or it they're spending time with peers who are overly focused on body image.  

 3) Bite your tongue. As an adult, it's really important to avoid criticizing your own body in front of your children and to be a healthy-body role model. Drop the talk about losing weight or feeling "gross" in your clothes. This kind of dialogue sets the stage for kids to begin assessing and judging their own bodies by these standards, perpetuating the notion that looks and body weight define self-worth.  

4) Bodies are more than just “skinny” or “fat.” Try using strong, curvy, muscular, lanky, fit, and healthy to define body types. Integrate these words into everyday conversations. Use these words with your children when you're looking at books, images, or magazines with different body types.

5) Leave the glamour mags out of reach! People magazine, Victoria Secret, Vogue, etc., are FULL of hyper-sexualized, overly thin, photo shopped images of women defining beauty standards in very unhealthy and persuasive ways. Lessening/shielding early exposure to these messages is better for children. Instead, introduce your children to The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty website which has exercises and videos you can do together to promote a healthy body image. Or, BodyImageHealth.org is a website devoted to cultivating healthy body image in children.

6) Re-Imagine the meaning of the word body. Help your child explore what a body really does, how the body really functions.  For instance, it carries us everywhere we want and need to go - from school to work to our friends’ homes. Our body protects us from sickness, it can make us feel powerful and strong, it can float and swim us through oceans and swimming pools. Our bodies help us to think, create and grow our minds at school.  The human body is an amazing, mysterious force!  

 7) Make bodies fun! Have your child come up with 3-5 positive words that describe their own body.  Write them down and together come up with a song about your child using these descriptive words.  Use your phone to video this silly song - it'll be awesome for a child to watch this back, and songs often have a funny way of wedging themselves into memory.  This is a creative, fun way for children to absorb positive beliefs and descriptors.  

 8) What matters most. As the adult influence, be a living example of what's most important in your life.  Be vocal about this, especially in front of your children.  Do you value creativity, adventure, knowledge, curiosity, hard work, family, spirituality, physical strength, health, etc?  Show your children through your actions and make it clear these are how you value your purpose and worth.  

9) Connect your values to your child’s important people. Have your child identify a variety of people they know and/or love in their lives.  Help your child see that naturally, each of these people have different body types. Have them describe what they like about each of these people, and reflect with them afterwards on how what they value in these people is not based on their size.  

 10) Appreciate your child’s body. Help your child explore and write down all of the things they like, love, or appreciate about their own body. Go ahead and take time to appreciate and share all the things you love about your own body too.

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What is mindfulness anyway, and how can it benefit kids?

communicating with kidsThe term mindfulness gets tossed around quite a bit, but do you actually know what it refers to? Many associate it with meditation, or may have heard a therapist talking about it, or a teacher. In fact, mindfulness is something anyone can practice, even young kids. There are simple techniques to incorporate it regularly into your day or in moments when it’s needed. Think of it as a way to calm the mind or empathize with others. When can we use mindfulness? Any time we feel anxious, sad, angry, confused, alone, scared, or simply overwhelmed. Being more mindful can help alleviate the stress associated with all these emotions. It can also help us relate to others when we may not understand them. In addition to these specific situations, mindfulness practice can be a daily routine, such as a morning meditation time when we clear our minds and are present. The effects will set the tone for a more mindful day. 


How can we practice it? One simple way to cultivate mindful self-awareness is through our breath. Focusing on its movement in the body can calm us and help us let go of distracting thoughts. Sometimes, simply by acknowledging a nagging thought, we can put it aside and move on with our lives. Coming back to the breath in a moment of panic can reassure us that we’re OK and that our emotions will pass. Being able to recognize negative emotions when they arise and apply these techniques to deal with them is the goal of practicing self-awareness.

Another mindfulness technique focuses on others. Often conflicts arise when we cannot understand another’s point of view or we feel threatened by them. Teaching ourselves to pause in these situations and consider the other person can encourage peaceful coexistence. We can remember that they, like us, are beings with their own emotions, concerns, wants, and needs, and become more compassionate in our actions towards them. By sending positive thoughts and emotions to those in our lives, and by recognizing that we are all the same in essence, we can become more accepting and understanding of them.

What are the results? A study shows that mindfulness techniques combined with social-emotional learning in the classroom, when compared to a traditional social responsibility school program emphasizing community, conflict resolution and ethics, had a greater positive impact on children in measures such as prosocial behavior, well-being, and math ability, as well as a greater reduction in aggression. These findings can certainly extend beyond schools to the family environment, and kids who learn them at a young age can continue to utilize them in the work environment later in life. Mindfulness practice is an important piece of overall social-emotional health that can have long-lasting effects and set kids up to be successful.

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Kids Learn Best Through Play. True or False?

kids communication skills, say no to bullying

Some kids love sports (I wasn’t one…) and others love make-believe. Some like puzzles, or dress-up, or word games. Others like to practice agility, explore, or play hide-and-seek. No matter how your child plays, let them! Play is fundamental to their social and emotional development. All types of play present many opportunities for kids to practice the skills they need to develop as successful people.


Think of emotions that arise throughout the course of a game: excitement, frustration, reluctance, patience, competition, determination, defeat...it’s a spectrum of feelings that our kids get to experience as they play. Whether they’re happy, sad, or just tired when it ends, they’re reminded it was only a game. But the chance to test-drive these emotions in a cooperative, non-judgmental setting is so important to how they, as individuals, will deal with them in everyday life.


It’s not just emotional intelligence, play encourages social smarts too. There are tools like conflict resolution, teamwork, empathy and strategy, which are muscles kids develop and work each time they play with others. These skills make strong, functional people. The more socially aware a child is, the more likely they are to engage positively with society as they grow older, which is known as prosocial behavior. This study shows a link between social competence in kindergarten and prosocial behavior as adults that is remarkable

 

Just as important as social awareness is self-awareness: thinking about how you interact with the world around you. Learning the thrill of discovery, the challenge of discipline, and the wonder of creative exploration in play will help kids lead more fulfilled lives, in which they can embrace challenge and novel experiences without being absorbed in, or distracted by their feelings. 

 

All situations present unique opportunities to build relationships and navigate them. It’s important to provide opportunities for play in each setting for your child, but be careful not to over-structure play. As some people “learn best by doing,” it’s also true that kids will learn relationship skills better by figuring out the right way on their own. It's good to be available in case a true need arises, but best to let kids explore and experiment for themselves. Whether the game is collaborative or solitary, play can help kids learn, build confidence and appreciate their abilities. 

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