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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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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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Why You Might Not Know it if Your Kid's Being Bullied

So your   child tells they’re getting picked on. Congratulations, you’re one of the lucky parents. While this is definitely upsetting information, you are very fortunate that they feel comfortable telling an adult, confiding in you. The reality is that many kids experiencing bullying are too scared or too ashamed to speak up. So how do you know if your kid is one of these silent victims? The situation may worsen as you wait for them to speak up (which may never happen), so it’s up to you to look for the signs.

 What are the signs of bullying? They range from the physical—scratches, bruises, or indirect symptoms like head or stomach ache—to the psychological—sleep or appetite changes, disturbing or sad drawings or journal entries—to the social—loss of enthusiasm or isolation. Their academic performance may suffer. Their possessions may go missing. Any of these red flags on their own may not amount to much, but if you start seeing a pattern of several, pay attention. They may be unconsciously signaling to you that something’s wrong, or it may be a cry for help that they’re not sure how to voice.

Why is it so hard to speak up if you’re being bullied? The biggest reason seems to be fear of retaliation in the form of more bullying, or fear of being judged by adults or by peers. The tattle-tale stigma carries heavy weight for kids and can signal weakness and vulnerability to a bully. Your kid is probably ashamed and embarrassed that the bullying happened in the first place. They may feel helpless about the situation and not believe adult intervention will work or help. It’s also worth remembering that kids, especially adolescents, aspire to be more independent from adults and want to believe they can handle it on their own. All of these factors contribute to kids staying silent.

You sense something’s going on but they’re not telling. How to have the conversation? Practice these dos and don’ts of communication techniques:

Do ask simple, matter-of-fact questions. Don’t get emotional or reactive. Do listen, encourage, and affirm as they explain. Don't judge them or try to rationalize or minimize their experience.

OK, so they’ve told you the truth. Now what do you say and do?? Often this is the hardest part as each situation requires an individualized approach.

Thank them for their honesty and explain that bullying happens to lots of kids (maybe it even happened to you). It doesn't mean they're unlikeable or unloveable, it means they're up against another child whose own insecurities are guiding them.  Help your child problem-solve and role-play ways to find a friend and/or safe adult if the situation surfaces again. Encourage them not to fight back, but to instead tell the bully or aggressor to Stop, and if they don't, to immediately seek an adult.  And if need be, as a parent or adult who's aware of what's going on, don't hesitate to call or email any involved parent, teacher, or principle that can really help understand and put a stop to the aggression.  Just as kids can fear being tattle-tales, parents can fear being helicopter-parents.  Let's all get clear on the difference and not fear speaking up when it's called for.  

 

 

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