When moms/grandmas don’t always know best
I am actually amazed by how many women have approached me for advice on how to deal with the way their own mothers and fathers are affecting their children’s self-esteem. It’s a cycle that needs to be broken, and it’s a tough one to break.
It’s estimated that by the time a girl is 17 years old she’s seen approximately 250,ooo messages from the media telling her what she’s supposed to look like. Now think about how many messages her mother’s heard, and how many her mother’s mother has heard! That’s a lot of messages from people who don’t know us, telling us WHO we’re supposed to be.
As parents, gradparents, aunts and uncles, we need to make sure that our fears and insecurities about food and our bodies don’t get passed on to the children in our lives. Interestingly, studies have shown that when parents focus their attention on their children’s weight, and put too many restrictions on what they eat, the risk of these children becoming overweight actually increases. The last thing we want is to encourage an unhealthy relationship and fear of food at an early age.
“I can vividly remember being at a family gathering when I was 8 years old. The table was filled with delicious food and I went to take something to eat. My aunt pointed at me and said to my mom. “Look! She’s eating again!” My mom walked over to me, slapped my face and told me to stop eating. The sad part is, I don’t even remember eating very much that day.” Jean, 35
“I grew up with a mother who was overly concerned with her weight; hers and everyone else’s. When I got pregnant with my first baby, my mother told me that maybe I’d get lucky and the baby would suck all of the fat out of my body and I wouldn’t gain any weight.” Susan, 43
“My family religiously watches shows where there are doctors talking about how to lose weight. Then they constantly repeat what they’ve heard to me and try to copy everything that they were told to do. I understand that they want to be healthy, but hearing about this all the time gets really annoying!” Hayley, 15
No one wants to purposely mess up their kid, and yet, even the best of intentions can lead to dangerous situations if we’re not careful. Often, in an effort to protect our kids from harmful situations, we unintentionally end up hurting them ourselves.
Criticism is NEVER a good motivator; neither are shame or guilt. It’s not our bodies that need to change, but our negative feelings around our bodies that do.
Here are some tips on how to handle the situation when a family member is making negative or critical comments towards your children:
1. Be honest and firm.
There’s nothing with saying, “You know mom, Jessica is a happy, healthy little girl and we all want her growing up loving herself and her body so we don’t allow any kind of negative talk around food or our bodies around her. I know how much you love her, so I’m sure you understand”
2. Don’t worry too much about possible hurt feelings.
While it would be fantastic to be able to solve the problem without anyone’s feelings getting hurt that just might be unavoidable. Protecting your child is your first priority, and if you show the critic that this is something you are very serious about,chances are they will at least try to be more sensitive with their comments. If not, let them know privately, that criticizing your child and undermining your parenting is not going to be accepted.
3. If a negative, hurtful comment has been said in front of your child, make sure you clearly contradict what’s been said and calmly express your own positive feelings on the subject to your son/daughter. The point of this isn’t to start an argument and shouldn’t turn into a long debate. But since you can’t take back the harmful words that have been said, you need to replace them with words of encouragement and acceptance.
4. Stand up and speak out.
Any time your son or daughter sees you stand up for an issue that you think is important it empowers them with the courage to do the same.
Any time your child sees you stand up for their well being it lets them know that you believe they are deserving of love, respect and acceptance which will help them grown into the self-confident, self-assured people they are meant to be.
The more unconditional love and support our kids can have around them, the stronger their foundation will be. if our goal goal is to raise happy, well-adjusted kids, we have to work TOGETHER to make that happen.
*Excerpt from “The Body Image Survival Guide: Helping Toddlers, Tweens and Teens Thrive” By Marci Warhaft-Nadler