Modeling and Encouraging Healthy Habits, and a Healthy Self-Image, for Kids:
A Parents’ How-To
Let’s face it; being a kid is a tough business. Whether we’re talking toddlers or teens, kids are bombarded with information, rules, media, and all the other minutiae of today’s childhood. Add their full-time job of growing up and figuring out who the heck they are into the mix, and, well… it’s no wonder they are tantrum-prone no matter their age. There’s a lot coming at them, and while we need to let them learn and make mistakes on their own, it is our job to model the right things to do and say, so that they can navigate the big, bad, wonderful world as emotionally and physically healthy sons and daughters. Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to help you along the way.
THE INTERNET/SOCIAL MEDIA
Do help your kiddos understand that, just because it appears on google, does not mean that the content isn’t necessarily right, appropriate, or important.
Don’t assume a kid understands the context of what they’re reading or viewing.
Do tell them that just because they can (read or post something), it doesn’t mean they should.
Do urge them to walk away if something they see or are doing, feels wrong or unkind.
Do educate them about trolls.
Do educate them about bullies.
Don’t engage in catty comments, judgments, or rants online. Set the right example! Model good digital citizenship.
The mantra, “Do unto others” fits perfectly here. Kids need to realize, as early as possible, that even though it has numerous merits, the internet can also be a pretty dangerous place. Give them the tools to use it wisely, kindly, and appropriately.
ABILITY & STEREOTYPES
Do encourage your children in their strengths, AND in the areas that prove to be a challenge for them.
Don’t flat-out tell your child that he or she will not be able to do something, even if it’s clear the pursuit isn’t the right fit. Use tactful language and present appealing alternatives.
Don’t trash talk your own abilities (lack of ability) in front of your kiddos.
Do keep an eye and ear out for stereotypes (“You throw like a girl!”, “Boys don’t cry”), and do be prepared to discuss them with your kids. Do let them know that girls AND boys can have a fantastic curveball. Do tell them that it’s ok to show emotion, no matter their gender.
Do make sure your language matches your guidance.
Part of the beauty of children is that each is unique. Robots are cool, but the world would be a pretty boring place if we were all the same. Help your kiddos recognize and embrace this in themselves and in others. Model it daily.
Don’t frequently weigh yourself in front of your child.
Don’t audibly count calories if young ears can hear.
Don’t criticize your own, or another person’s appearance, or looks, in front of your kiddos.
Don’t let your child get away with uttering phrases like, “go on a diet” or “I want to change my…” without having a conversation. Unless there’s a legitimate medical issue in play, this stuff shouldn’t be in a kid’s lexicon.
Do explain to your son or daughter the importance of a balanced diet and staying active, whenever they’re old enough to understand.
Do explain to them the importance of loving themselves for their unique attributes.
Do tell your kids that the “beauty” they see in magazines, online, or on television may only be skin deep and is often the result of airbrushing. Explain marketing.
Don’t make a habit of spouting remarks such as, “Oh, you look so thin!” or, “You’re such a pretty girl!” While flattering, comments like these can reinforce that being thin and pretty are traits to be revered and supersede others such as compassion or intelligence. Do make comments highlighting or praising your child’s non-aesthetic traits.
Do explain to your children that criticizing others is hurtful and damaging.
Insecurity is normal to a degree, but no child should ever feel inferior because of his or her body. For impressionable older children and teens, a distorted view of or obsession with these issues can be particularly dangerous (and lead to eating disorders and depression). Don’t let your actions be part of the pull that leads kids down a path of self-doubt and criticism.
We can’t keep our babes in cozy bubbles free of pain, stereotyping, and bullies, but we can do our part by setting good examples and discussing these issues at home.
Guest Post By Laura Boycourt