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The idea of talking to your kids about body image might feel as natural to you as flying to the moon. Yet this is a conversation that you don’t want to miss. Not embracing this one with your kids leaves the door wide open for somebody else to do it for you, and they won’t be nearly as invested in your children’s future as you are.
This body image stuff isn’t just for girls. Boys are equally part of this discussion. Even as adults we have a pretty hard time swatting away the barrage of messages about how good we need to look to be loved.
A good friend of mine often reminds me that“kids are great observers but poor interpreters”. By this she means that our kids are awesome at inhaling advertising yet not so awesome at calling out the lies in some of the messages used to sell stuff. So if you learn just one thing from reading this article, let it be that to nurture the healthy self-esteem of your kids, you are going to need to bravely step up and speak into the gap of helping them love the bodies they’re in.
EMBRACE YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR OWN BODY
It’s pretty simple, really. If our kids see us obsessing about our weight, our diet, how we look in our jeans, how we want to look in our jeans, we send them the message loud and clear that we are not enough. So instead of a long lecture about self-acceptance, just try saying something really positive about yourself next time you are standing in front of a mirror – and let your kids hear it.
EMBRACE YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
Food is fuel. Our Earth generously gives us this bounty of fuel that powers us through our days. Food is a gift for us to enjoy. So teach kids about the diversity of taste, balance, nutrition, energy and flavour. Show them how to enjoy food so that it becomes their friend and not their enemy. So instead of cursing the calories or gorging with guilt, let your kids see you thanking the Earth, sky and sea as you take great pleasure in savouring what sustains your body.
EMBRACE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER PEOPLE’S BODIES
It’s pretty darn easy to slide into the role of commentating on how others are, or are not, taking care of themselves. But stop it. Just stop it. Stop commenting on weight gain, weight loss, calories, what they are eating, what you are not eating. Zip.
Nothing. Instead of cussing the few kilos you would like to drop or gain, or even celebrating the few kilos your friend has dropped, turn instead to kind acceptance of kilos full stop. Put the scales in the bin and give yourself a warm hug and choose to value your (and their) relationship with your heart, health and wholeness.
"Every morning on the way to preschool I get my daughter to repeat this motto after me: I am strong. I am smart. I work hard. I am beautiful. I am respectful. I am not better than anyone else. Nobody is better then me. I am amazing. I am great. And Mummy and Daddy love me no matter what. - Palmerston North mum
40% of mums don’t think they’re beautiful*
91% of girls say their mums are beautiful*
(*Connecticut Children’s Medical Center)
EMBRACE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH IMPERFECT
Our economy needs us to be dissatisfied so that we keep on spending. From an economic point of view this makes good sense, but from a mental health perspective, especially for our kids, this is troubling. How can we ever arrive at enough when the bar keeps moving? Teaching our kids that there is an industry dedicated to optical illusions can help them navigate the terrain between fantasy and reality. Throwing a floodlight on the myth of perfect opens up a path towards loveable imperfection, which is a far broader and more life-giving track to do life on.
EMBRACE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH TECHNOLOGY
I can feel the contradiction even now, as I check my Instagram feed between paragraphs while writing this. But when you look at the hours our kids clock up on their devices, drinking in sumptuous screenshots of biceps, bums, boobs and bikinis, it’s little wonder that their mental health has taken a hiding in the past decade.
Spending too much time in front of the screen can lead to:
• Negatively affected sleep patterns
• Attention problems
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
Too much screen time has been shown to have negative impacts on kids. Studies show:
0 hours - Children under two should have no screen time.
2 hours - Children from two years old to teenagers should ideally have only two hours of screen time a day.
Nine out of 10 Kiwi kids aged between 10 and 14 gaze at screens for longer than the recommended two hours each day.*
(*Jamie Morton, Science Reporter, New Zealand Herald)
EMBRACE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH LANGUAGE
When it comes to talking about body image with our kids, it’s really as much about what not to say as it is about what to say. Our kids really do have a radar that picks up the nuances of our actions and our language, so paying special attention to what we are saying and how we are saying it really does matter.
Instead of saying:
“I should not be eating this.”
“I am off the carbs at the moment.”
“I feel massive in these jeans.”
“I feel fat in these jeans.”
“I am watching my weight right now.”
“I need to go on a diet.”
“I am treating myself today.”
“I am making healthy choices.”
“I am rocking this outfit.”
“These jeans are not comfy.”
“I’m going to look after this precious body.”
“I am taking good care of myself.”
Did you know? Measurements of toy male action figures exceed even those of the biggest bodybuilders.
Kids are swimming in the idea that ‘you have to be beautiful to be loved’. Yet we, as parents, hold the keys to challenge that narrative and to truly define the meaning of beauty with a quiet whisper of truth into their young ears and hearts, over and over again, with a message that says, “Your beauty is within. You are loved just as you are – imperfect and beautiful”.
Toyota Family Journeys
Toyota New Zealand and Parenting Place have partnered for more than a decade to build stronger New Zealand families with the values essential to a well functioning society and a successful nation.
Toyota Family Journeys was launched just under two years ago, to provide roadie survival kits for Kiwi families on their road trips, packed with tips, tools and advice to ensure that parents have strategies to ease the stress of travel and make the most of family downtime for long or short car journeys.
There are 100 conversation starters for children of all ages, ranging from, “If you had a superpower, what would it be?” and “If you were in charge, what would your top five rules be?” to “How would you like to be remembered?” and “Is war ever justified?”
Topics are included in the suite of resources available, which reflect current events and issues that could affect kids and teens today.
Toyota Family Journeys is reactive to what is ‘current or topical’ for kids and has a range of popular topics in its ‘How to talk to your kids/ teen about’ range, such as pornography, alcohol and drugs and online safety – all issues that are relevant to youth. These online tools have some cues on how to talk to these topics and raise them in conversation, also providing an awareness of the types of topic that are affecting kids/teens.
There is also a treasure trove of downloadable activity sheets, videos, games and fun activities for the long haul, with podcasts coming soon too.
Toyota Family Journeys also covers making the most of school pick-ups and drop-offs, practical tips for making car time family time, and using travel and car trips to connect with teens.
For more information on Toyota Family Journeys, visit www.theparentingplace.com/toyota-family-journeys and download some useful tips.