For a parent it can be difficult to understand how their young son or daughter developed anorexia or bulimia or became obese. Most parents don’t intend to knowingly cause issues for your kids. But in working with teens with eating disorders and their parents it’s interesting to see how many times parents aren’t tuned in to the messages that are being given to their child.
When I was a young child I was keenly aware of my father talking regularly about his weight. Being an executive, there were often late night dinners that he and my mom had to attend. Once home, he would weigh himself and express frustration at what the scale read. At the age of 8-10 I totally absorbed this ritual and thought it was odd. As he got older, the answer became only eating two meals a day. Not a theory I agree with, but it’s how he prefers to feed and fuel his body.
I’ve had clients whose parents made them very conscious of eating a piece of candy or cake. One mother actually made sure the kids all exercised after dinner. And yet other children, like myself, realize later in life that subconsciously they took in their parent’s obsession with always being on a diet, talking about how fat she/he was, or constantly talking about “getting on that diet come Monday.”
When there is focus at home on food, weight, the scale or exercise, it will have an impact on your child and how they view themselves at some point in their life. Some kids come through it and resolve to be nothing like their parents. Other kids wear the pattern like tight-fitting glove and can’t get it off.
Here’s three quick tips to avoid this trap in your home:
1 – Be conscious of what you say and the attitude you have about your body. Accept and love your body and let your kids know that bodies are only wrappers that come in all shapes and sizes. If you’re unhappy in your body…do something about it! Don’t just bitch and complain about it for years. Be a proud role model for your kids.
2 – Be aware of messages you’re sending about other people. Do you regularly comment about overweight or underweight people? Do you gasp with envy at a person you see (or an actor) that has the “perfect body.” Remove the word “perfect” from having a connection with any “body.”
3 – If you notice your child is starting to talk constantly about food, their body or their weight–act quickly. They need help to improve their self-esteem so they understand it isn’t tied to the size of their body. This will require more than simply telling them they are pretty, handsome and look fine. Stay positive, don’t freak out. The more you stress, the worse it gets.