How to Raise Kids Who Love Their Bodies Even if You Don’t Love Yours
How can you help your kids build confidence in their bodies, even if you’re not completely confident in your own body or if you have your own body image issues you’re working through?
No matter what your journey has been like, motherhood is a process that brings us through many changes: physically, emotionally, mentally, and more.
Navigating the physical ways our bodies change through pregnancy & postpartum can be grueling.
Popular culture has it that mothers should somehow “bounce back” after birth (I HATE this expression by the way - a woman’s body doesn’t bounce anywhere), like if we’re supposed to somehow erase the evidence of the miracles we’ve created with our bodies.
The truth is that our bodies change, and that is not something we have to fight against.
Contrary to what diet culture might make us believe, our bodies aren’t supposed to stay the same, especially as we go through our different seasons of motherhood.
Expecting our bodies to go back to where they were before having kids is an unattainable standard that sets women up to feel like they’re failing.
Learning to befriend your body through these changes is easier said than done.
It might take some time to feel like yourself in your new body and that is OKAY - you can take all the time you need, mama.
It’s a journey, and knowing this may make it easier for you to be patient with yourself through the process.
Even as you walk this journey and learn to get acquainted with your body through the different changes that motherhood might bring, you can still help your child be confident in his or her body.
Here are 5 tips to help you build body confidence in your kids, even while you continue to do the same for yourself:
Choose to Be Respectful Toward Yourself First
If you want to know how to raise body confident kids, it must come from a place of respect and kindness toward yourself.
When your body has changed in ways that make you feel uncomfortable, you might feel distrustful of your own body, or even like your body is the enemy. From these feelings, it’s common to treat your body in ways that are intended to manipulate, change, or even punish your body.
This is understandable, given the damaging rhetoric society upholds when it comes to our body sizes and appearances being the most important part of us.
However, it’s important to understand that living your life in this way will set the tone for your kids, and they may begin to model some of the behaviors, thoughts, and feelings you have toward yourself.
This is where you can begin to choose to treat yourself and your body differently, from a place of kindness and respect, EVEN if you’re not yet fully comfortable with where your body is at.
That is okay. It’s perfectly okay not to be okay with your body but still be committed to respecting your one and only body for all it has done and brought you through.
Many women find that as they begin treating their bodies with more kindness, it helps build their confidence and a more positive body image - no matter their size or shape.
While this might look different for everyone, here are some things that can help you be kinder to your body and to treat your body with respect:
Understand that your body is ever-changing to adapt to new seasons of life
Doing things that treat your body with respect, even if positive feelings toward you body aren’t present
Feelings are not facts: your worth is not based on how you feel in your body from one day to the next
Approach food and exercise as a way to nurture and care for yourself, not in attempt to manipulate or punish your body
Periodically go through your clothes to put away or get rid of anything that doesn’t serve or fit the body you’re currently in.
Learning to respect your body is a lot like motherhood. You love your kids unconditionally, but let’s be real...there are days where you aren’t IN LOVE with motherhood. But that’s okay.
You still choose to care for your kids, you’re still INTENTIONAL about demonstrating love and kindness toward them, even when that “feeling” of LOVE is not there.
As parents, we understand that real love is MORE than a feeling - so we act accordingly.
Same with your body - there may be days where you wake up and don’t feel good in your body. But guess what?
You don’t need to wait for that feeling to give yourself permission to treat your body with respect, kindness, and care it deserves.
Actions are powerful catalysts for changing ingrained thoughts and habits. So when you are CHOOSING to act kindly toward your body despite how you feel, you are signaling your brain to learn a different story about your body.
Learning this process is one of the most powerful ways we can cultivate a positive relationship with our bodies and raise children who are also confident in themselves - as we model body kindness in action.
No matter what the narrative is that plays in your mind and tells you that your body is not enough, you are STRONGER to change the story - for yourself and generations after you. It starts by ACTING on the knowledge that you are worthy. You are enough as you are, no matter your weight, size or shape.
2. Speak Positively About Your Body and What It’s Capable of Doing
When was the last time you talked positively about yourself in front of your kids?
If your inner voice is critical and negative about your own body, it might be hard to voice positive aspects about yourself. You may even find it challenging to come up with anything positive about your body, and that is okay.
The point here is that kids internalize messages about their bodies at very young ages, where negative body talk is related to higher incidences of body dissatisfaction. Some of the earliest messages kids form about their bodies comes from what they hear from their caregivers.
So not talking negatively about your body is one piece of the puzzle here, but what about speaking of your body in a positive light?
Think of the messages you might communicate to your child if they hear you say how proud you are of your body, or how strong you feel in your body.
Even if you don’t believe these things to be true about yourself, you can begin to change your mindset by the practice of speaking positively about yourself out loud.
This can be a powerful step to breaking through negative body image for yourself and boosting your own kids’ internal monologue about their own bodies.
When your kids grow up, what do you want them to remember about the way you talked about yourself?
Many moms that I work with can’t remember their own mothers saying anything positive about their bodies. Maybe this is true of you, too?
If so, you can change the story with your own kids. It might feel awkward at first, but stating positive statements about your body can be a powerful way to flip the script on what you know about yourself.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some ideas:
“Mommy’s body is strong because I can carry you!”
“I am so proud of my body for growing you and giving you to me!”
“My legs are powerful for [walking, swimming, jumping, etc]”
“I’m so glad I have these arms to hold you and give you hugs!”
“I’m so thankful my tummy could change for you when you were growing in my belly!”
Remember that feelings about your body don’t dictate FACTS, and the TRUTH is that you are wholly worthy of love, respect, and compassion as you are, no matter what your body size, shape or weight might be. Let your kids see this reflected in your language about yourself.
Remember that YOU ARE ENOUGH. Celebrate the functionality of what your body is capable of, and let your children be part of that celebration.
If it feels awkward or foreign to speak positively about your body in front of your kids - don’t give up, and don’t stop doing it.
With each step of faith, you are teaching yourself a different story about your body. In the process, you are showing your children that all bodies are worthy of celebration - yours and theirs, too.
3. Offer Compliments to Your Child that Aren’t Appearance-Based
As a society, we’re conditioned to speaking to others about appearance-related things.
“Wow, you look amazing, have you lost weight?”
“You look so pretty in that dress!”
“You could kill with those looks!”
And the list goes on and on.
While many of these compliments are well-intentioned, they reinforce the idea that a child’s appearance is the most important thing about themselves. From young ages, children will begin to build their worth and self-esteem based on appearance-related compliments they may get.
This is also reinforced by our social media age, where the images we share and post are filtered, and our success is measured by the number of likes we received.
So how can you help your child counter this?
Build your conversations and compliments around things that have little to do with their appearance or body.
Here are some areas that you can highlight:
The functionality of their bodies
Their feelings and emotions
The values your family stands for
Talents or passions they might have
If you do have conversations about body or appearance, try to help your child focus more on how they feel in their body. Take a neutral lens rather than using polarizing terms, such as good versus bad.
For example, instead of saying something like, “You look so pretty in that dress!”, you can say, “I love the colors you picked out. How do feel in that dress?”
While the rest of the world may be telling your children that their main priorities should focus around their bodies and appearances, you can be a voice of truth that helps them build their worth and self-esteem, irrespective of how they look.
In this way, you’ll help your kids grow up feeling confident in who they are, no matter how their bodies may change throughout their lives.
4. Take a Neutral Approach to Body Talk
Our culture has demonized what it means to be in a larger body while elevating those who are in smaller, thinner frames.
Weight stigma in our culture is a reality that countless of individuals face. You might be working through your own fears around what it means to potentially be in a larger body or even anxieties about your child’s body shape - and that is okay.
You can continue to work through these issues while approaching talk around bodies in a way that isn’t stigmatizing.
For example, your child use words like “fat”, or “big” to describe someone, which may simply come from their own observations. Understand that many kids do not yet have negative associations with these descriptors until they learn otherwise.
Sadly, our society has stigmatized individuals in larger bodies with many negative connotations, identifying larger bodies as “bad”, and thinner bodies as “good”. Instead of labeling bodies as either good or bad, help your child understand that all bodies are built different and unique.
No matter a person’s body size, you can emphasize that everybody deserves respect and kindness.
Taking this approach with your kids can help them appreciate body diversity and respect all body types, including their own bodies.
5. Help Your Child Critically Consume Media
Because of the nature of our digital age and culture, we’ve become desensitized to the power of mainstream media and how marketing messages create and trigger body dissatisfaction.
One of the most important ways you can help your children successfully navigate this culture is to help them understand how the media works.
Give your child the tools they need to recognize how mainstream media messages personify and glorify certain body types. Awareness is the first step to build resistance against a culture that will try to change everything about them.
If your child is on any social media platforms, guide them to curating a feed that supports body diversity and that can help minimize negative thoughts they may have toward their bodies.
Helping your child learn how to successfully navigate social media, setting healthy boundaries and parameters with others and on media platforms, and being intentional about time spent on social media can help prevent these dangerous effects.
Hope for Your Body Acceptance Journey in Motherhood
Did you know there are many parallels between body acceptance and motherhood?
Some days are harder than others.
Sometimes, you might wake up and feel unhappy with what you see.
Sometimes, you might want to escape your reality.
But you still show up.
You learn to care, nurture, and love - even when the feelings of love aren’t there.
Time will help you build confidence.
There is power in surrender, in relinquishing control, and in learning to trust yourself.
Gratitude can help ground you in the present when you find yourself longing for things to be different.
You don’t have to be in love with it to embrace it for what it is - imperfections and all.
Letting go of unrealistic expectations can be freeing and create space for you to breathe.
Feelings will come and go, but they aren’t a label or identity that you are bound to live with.
You don’t have to have it all figured out to be compassionate, kind and gentle with yourself along your journey.
You are WORTHY and LOVED no matter what the road has been.
If you’ve struggled to accept your body through the changing seasons of motherhood, know that you are not alone mama.
There is hope, and you deserve to be at peace with the body that brought you your babies and has carried you through life.
Be patient with yourself, mama, and your one and only body.
What has motherhood taught you about accepting and caring for your body?