Sometimes you are left feeling completely inadequate as a parent. Sometimes you are faced with something unexpected which leaves you reeling. It is quite often a question which leaves you groping around for an adequate response. I have to admit that this weekend I was floored by my daughter suddenly asking why she has a fat face.
I knew this question would come up – I knew exactly what to say in response all about media creating a false ideal and how we should never compare ourselves to photo shop enhanced images. The only problem with that answer is that I was expecting to discuss it with a teenager – or at least a pre teen.
My child is five. FIVE.
We were in the car at the weekend – which is where she always poses one or two particularly challenging questions. I hate driving and having to explain how rain is formed or how the first baby was born when there weren’t any people yet – adds a whole extra dimension of stress. I guess it’s where she had the least amount to do so just sits there and ponders lives unanswerable questions. This time it was more a statement. “I have a fat face.” My reaction to this wasn’t the best. No of course you don’t. Don’t be silly.”This was just a gut reaction and I didn’t want to dismiss her worries lightly.
“My face is round.Why is my face round, when everyone else in my class isn’t? Am I fat?”
Now of course I explained that she was perfect and a healthy weight and she does lots of exercise and the only important thing is that you are healthy and she is. Then I told her she is beautiful and everyone is always telling me what lovely blue eyes she has and went on to list all the other things about her which are beautiful.
It wasn’t enough.
So this is what I’ve done to tackle her self esteem and try to instil a positive body image.
1. Look at myself.
Children look and learn from us first. We are their first teacher. I make a point of never talking about diets or weight loss in front of my girls. I don’t ever make derogatory comments about myself either – even if I think them. However, I am struggling with my weight at the moment. Well it’s a constant battle and my self esteem is at an all time low. Although I desperately hope she hasn’t picked up on this – really how can she not. I have to sort out my own issues and quickly before they rub off.
2. Teach her that people come in different shapes and sizes
I know this comes mainly from another child telling her she has a round face. I think it was just a description but for some reason she has taken it to heart. I want to teach her that everyone comes in different shapes and sizes – and that is ok. We have looked at lots of pictures of different people old and young and looked at their shape of their face and how they all are different and find something beautiful in all of them.
3. Teach her that it’s what’s on the inside that counts
Of course alongside this is my overwhelming feeling that we should teach children that looks are secondary to how a person behaves. This evening we read the story of Goldilocks. It’s at the right age level for a five year old. Goldilocks is always drawn as a very pretty little girl but we discussed how it didn’t matter how pretty she was as she was so naughty.
4. Positive Self Image
She has this negative statement about herself and it’s hard to get rid of that. Instead I’m focusing on the positives. We recently drew around all the children and wrote the things they like. We have added to this lots of positive statements about them both inside and out and got her to write about the things which are good about herself. I have started to leave her little notes with these statements on just to remind her (and of course to get a bit of sneaky reading practice in too – I can’t help myself sometimes).
We will read a couple of books which I have put on order: What I Like About Me by Allia Zobel-Nolan and I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont
5. Focus on having a healthy lifestyle
I am focussing this week on tweaking our lifestyle to make it healthier and encourage healthy choices. I need to make sure we get out and have lots of exercise together as a family, and have lots of healthy food choices available.
So have you been in this situation? Is there anything else I could do to raise a child with a healthy body image?