How I’m struggling to get my kids to eat healthy,  boost their self confidence and deal with some self image issues.  

With two daughters I knew body image, weight and health would be something we would have to navigate as they got older. It’s something I expected to deal with when they were in their teen years but unfortunately it’s become a part of our conversations much sooner.

It’s no secret that I’ve got my own body image issues and struggles with weight, as I’ve blogged about before, but now with my kids, I’m facing it in an entirely new way.

My two girls couldn’t be more different. Ellie has always been tall, thin, sassy and a bit quieter. She’s not a big eater and never stops moving! She dances, sings and practices her skating moves all over the house.

My youngest is the opposite. She has an athletic build, she’s average height, is obsessed with sweets and loves reading and playing with her dolls. Their differences make make them who they are and I wouldn’t change it for the world. They’ve always been opposites but aside from the usual sisterly squabbles, that’s never been a challenge… until now.

My girls are getting older, Ellie’s 10 going on 16, and 7 year-old Abby is watching everything her older sister is doing and saying.

With Ellie’s entry into the pre-teen years, now there is a new focus on her appearance. She loves makeup and hairstyles, picking an outfit is a lengthy and complicated process, and she loves pop culture. With all this she’s also starting to realize that her slender appearance is something to be desired. She likes the way clothes look on her tiny waist and long legs and is recognizing that being thin is desirable.

She’s not vain about her appearance (actually far from it) but she’s very quickly starting to understand how society and pop culture define beauty.

She’s also learning that the comments from friends and family about her appearance like ‘ being so tiny’ or a ‘skinny mini’ are meant to be compliments.

I want her to see how beautiful her body is, of course! But I also don’t want to encourage her to think that a certain body type is more sought after. I know our friends and family mean well with these compliments, but they don’t realize the impact it’s having on how she defines herself and beauty.

Abby’s athletic build is also beautiful, but she notices that she doesn’t receive the same compliments about her figure. She notices that she has a bigger tummy than her sister and worst of all says that she considers herself fat.

No matter how many times I tell her she’s beautiful and that we all come in different sizes, she thinks that her bigger body is undesirable and not as pretty as her big sisters.

It also doesn’t help that she’s been called fat from kids at school more than once.

Already in grade 2, she’s struggling to fit into a stereotype of beauty that she doesn’t even fully recognize. She knows that her tummy is a bit bigger than other people’s and that it’s not perfectly flat. Helping her to understand that she is beautiful no matter her size is now our priority, but my God its hard.

No matter how many times I say I love your little belly, she still remembers the one kid who told her she was chubby last week. Or the friend who said something unkind two months ago.

Growing up, I faced similar comments. I was never thin or tiny or felt comfortable in my shape compared to the most popular girls. It took years for me to start to like my figure, and even now it’s a struggle. So I sympathize with her and hurt for her when she says unkind things about her own body.

I’m careful not to talk about my own issues in front of the girls. Always making sure we talk about making healthy choices, and eating to fuel our bodies and exercise for health and strength. But I’m struggling with how to help my youngest feel more comfortable and confident in her skin.

She’s the kid who will sneak sugary snacks behind my back, loves pasta, rice and bread and often wants seconds.  I’m not interested in putting her on a diet, but want to teach them both about health, balance and that eating too much of any sugary or starchy foods is unhealthy.

So that’s where we are now. Trying to encourage both of them to eat a balanced diet full of fruit and veggies and trying to cut down on starchy and sugary foods. Let me tell you it’s not easy! While I typically eat this way it’s been really hard to try and keep the junk food out of their diets.

Between holidays, birthday parties and occasional treats, our cupboards have tons of junk food in them, despite my efforts to hide it or throw it out.

The biggest request I ask is for friends and family to stop gifting my kids candy, chocolate and junk food. A lot of our family loves treating our kids to these things and while I appreciate the gesture it’s adding to their confusion about healthy eating.

They of course want to eat the snacks but it goes against everything I’m trying to teach them and instilling about their relationship with food. Over the years I’ve asked the offenders to please stop. Whether it’s offering treats as gifts or rewards, or commenting on one of my daughter’s body types.

Somehow it always seems to fall on deaf ears.

So please, let’s stop offering all our kids unhealthy food as a way to show our affection and instead gift them things to get them active or outside. Let’s stop complimenting kids on their appearance and instead talk to them about how smart, funny and confident they are.

Because the habits they form now will be with them for life and will have a huge impact on their self-image, confidence and lives as adults.

And as a mom of 2 daughters, raising confident, strong women is my number one goal.

XO

Sarah

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