Posts Tagged ‘self-esteem’

Children mimic your behaviors!

Contrary to popular belief, children hear what you say and see what you do.  Your behaviors and comments can leave a lasting impression.  Even your body image or weight concerns can be passed on to your kids.  Evidence shows that stressing thinness and weight control promotes eating disorders, low self-esteem, decreased body image, and weight bias in children.  Furthermore, eating behaviors linked to a higher risk for obesity are known to develop very early in life.  A 2001 study showed family food environments and attitudes around food and eating affect even preschool-aged kids’ eating behaviors.  You may think youngsters don’t pick up on your drastic dieting or negative comments you make about your body like older children, but they do!

Several studies show that restrictive feeding can impair a child’s ability to regulate their intake, resulting in overeating and weight gain.  Worrying about your own weight can influence your feeding style.  For example, forbidding high calorie foods or sweets in your home can result in your child sneaking food or feeling deprived and overeating when given the opportunity.  Overly controlling or eliminating fun foods simply doesn’t work with kids – balance is key.

Have you ever found yourself saying out loud:

“I have got to lose weight, I am getting so fat”

“I am going to be good and skip lunch today”

“No more desserts for me, I don’t deserve it”

If so, you may want to censor your comments and think before you speak.   Remember, your words could promote your child’s weight gain!

As a parent, you can model  “good for you” behaviors without fixating on weight.  There’s nothing wrong with guiding your child towards adopting healthy habits that will benefit him or her – that’s part of your role!

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to promote a healthy weight for yourself while empowering your child.


  • Be physically active and limit your own sedentary activities
  • Aim to eat when feeling physically hungry
  • Have a neutral view about all foods
  • Stock a range of nutritious foods in your home and choose these options more often
  • Offer balanced family meals as much as you can
  • Choose to talk about yourself and others with respect and appreciation


  • Get caught up in the latest fad diet or encourage your child to diet
  • Skip meals
  • Eliminate all sweets or high calorie foods from your home
  • Use food for rewards or punishments for yourself or for others
  • Eat while standing up or distracted (may lead to eating mindlessly)
  • Emphasize effects of unhealthy eating
  • Focus on anyone’s weight, especially yours or your child’s

Bottom line:  You are your child’s biggest role model – do you want your child viewing and treating their body the way you do?

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN


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In a culture plagued with weight problems and thin idealism, it’s no wonder kids are asking their parents, “Do you think I’m fat?” In fact, according to a 2008 Canadian survey, 37% of ninth grade girls and 40% of tenth grade girls believed they were, in fact, too fat.

Many parents are blind-sided with this question and are left stumped into silence or heading to Google, the doctor, or a friend for advice. According to Laura Newton, a psychotherapist and eating disorder specialist in Nashville, TN, the timing of this question is an important factor in deciding how to respond. “If this is the first time this question has come up, tell them they look fantastic, and make sure to stay away from using words like ‘big’ or ‘small’, ‘thin’ or ‘heavy’,” states Newton. If this is not the first time this question has been asked, then this is a real concern that needs your time and attention. “Sit down with your child and have a conversation, beginning with, “you have asked me this question a couple of times—what’s this about?” advises Newton.

Newton states that kids get these questions from a variety of influences, including their own parents, peers, and the media. Coming up with a thoughtful and meaningful response depends upon the influence your child is concerned about.

The Parent: Without even knowing it, parents pass on their own body image and weight concerns to their children. “If you find yourself asking, “Do I look good?” or “Do I look fat in these jeans?” to your hubby or other family members, you may want to temper those questions in front of the kids,” says Newton.  Rather, Newton suggests parents consider using this mantra for themselves and their family, “Enjoy your own body, as if your body is more than a clothes hanger. Revel in the beauty of a functioning body, which is the vehicle that will take you where you want to go in life.”

The Peers: Children surround themselves with their friends and find themselves in situations where body comparisons come naturally, such as the gym and the locker room. And particularly during pre-adolescence, the child has a developmental urge to find out if they are normal. “Answering the question, “Am I normal?” is developmentally on target and relies, in part, on looking at others and comparing oneself with others,” states Newton.

The Media: The ‘thin is in’ ideal makes its mark on children, too. And when you combine media power with a general desire to fit in, it’s easy to see how questions about self-worth and inadequacy can surface.

So what can parents do?

Most importantly, your child needs to hear that you accept and love them regardless of what they look like. No matter what. Period.

Here are some other things Newton encourages parents to keep in mind:

Respect and Honor your own body, no matter what the size or shape it is—it is your body after all…and the body that produced your child, and takes you where you want to go.

Tolerate normal child growth.  Pre-pubescent girls and boys gain weight in preparation for the rapid growth of the teen years—this is a normal process.

Focus on your child’s inner qualities. Begin pointing out inner qualities as early as possible, to help build self-esteem and worthiness.

Limit media influences. Think twice about buying that fashion magazine for your 11 year old and be sure to scrutinize the TV shows your child is watching.

Attitude is everything! Everybody has value, no matter what it looks like.

When your child asks “Do you think I’m fat?”, she is asking you to discuss your values and ideals about body weight, shape and size. He is also giving you the option to debunk media messages, thin idealism, show your acceptance and assure love. Seems like a golden opportunity to me.

Have you had this question? If so, how did you respond?

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This is the last installment of our eating disorder series by guest blogger, Katherine Fowler, and we are ending with prevention.  Next week we will feature a post on the question many parents get asked, but don’t know how to answer.  Join us for an expert perspective on how to handle the tough question–Do You Think I’m Fat?  For now, read on for what you can do to keep your child in a healthy state of mind and body.

Part 2 of this series discussed the warning signs of eating disorders and what to do if you witness them.  This segment will focus on primary prevention, or what you as a parent can do to stop the occurrence of eating disorders before they begin.

Studies have shown that eating disorders do run in families.  Even if you do everything you can to control your child’s environment, he or she still has a chance of developing an eating disorder. So what is a parent to do? It’s impossible to control all the influences outside of your door, but your actions can have an impact.


  • Encourage positive body image.  Be a model of healthy self-esteem.
  • Become a critical viewer of the media.
  • Choose to talk about yourself with respect and appreciation.
  • Choose to tell your child you love him/her for what is inside, not because of how he/she looks.
  • Have a neutral view about all foods.
  • Allow your child to determine when he/she is full.
  • Emphasize positive aspects of healthy eating rather than effects of unhealthy eating.


  • Make negative comments about your own or others’ weight.
  • Label foods as “good” and “bad”.
  • Use food for rewards or punishments.
  • Follow fad diets or encourage your child to diet.
  • Focus on the calorie content and grams of fat or sugar in foods.
  • Restrict sweets and high calorie foods from your child.
  • Make your child clean their plate if they are full.

There are 3 major things you need to remember:

  1. What you say sticks. You definitely don’t want your comments about food, eating, body weight, shape, or size to affect your child’s self-esteem.
  2. Your feeding style is important.  An authoritative feeding/parenting style is associated with preventing childhood obesity and eating disorders and has a “love with limits” approach.  What type of feeder are you, and is it having a positive or negative impact on your child?
  3. Family meals matter.  Regular family meals are associated with preventing disordered eating and promote healthier body weight, less behavioral problems, and better grades in school.

To reap the benefits of family meals:

  • Make mealtime peaceful. Save arguments, TV, and phone calls for another time.
  • Make mealtime fun! Involve kids in planning meals, shopping, and cooking.
  • Offer balanced meals. To create balance, serve nutrient dense foods like lean meat, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in larger quantities and serve less nutrient dense foods like high fat dairy and processed grains in smaller amounts. Offer fried foods and sweets less often.

You have a number of chances to interact with your child each day.  Each is an opportunity for you to promote a confident eater that has a healthy relationship with food.  You can make a difference!

Contributing Author: Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

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I have a friend who uses the word “hinder” often.  He is from Ireland.  When he uses this word, my ears perk up.

Hinder.  Not a word you hear used frequently in the English language.  Hinder :  to delay; to slow down; to impede or impair.

I am sure my children feel hindered by me, my husband, or our rules. Like when I tell them they can have one “fun food” per day.  They interpret this as a major hindrance, especially on those days when there are lots of “fun food” options, which are times when they have to pause and think about which “fun food” they want.  Or if you have a teenager (or a budding one), it seems like they always feel hindered by their parents, in some way or fashion.

Do we really hinder our children?  Not purposely, but, in the world of food, nutrition, and children, parents do hinder and don’t realize they are doing it.  Here are some examples:

Unconsciously, we may hinder our children with the verbal comments we make about food, eating, body weight, shape, or size.  Often, kids will take on these messages, and internalize them.

  • “If you eat your dinner, you can have dessert.”   (Dessert is the most important part of this meal.)
  • “Be a good boy like your cousin, and eat your vegetables.”     (If I eat my vegetables, then I am good.  My cousin is good, and I should be good like him.)
  • “Don’t you think you’ve eaten enough?”    (My mom thinks I have eaten too much.)
  • “Oh, she’s stocky like her Dad”    (She thinks I am fat.)

The pressure that parents place on children, particularly if they need to gain weight, lose weight, or change their eating habits, can hinder them.  Internalized, look how these words could speak very differently than intended:

  • “If you would just try this new food, your life would be better.”   (My Dad doesn’t like me or my life unless I eat the foods he wants me to eat, or the foods he likes to eat.)
  • “All the other boys are bigger than you, because they focus on nutrition and health.”   (The other boys are better, and my Dad is unhappy with the way I look.)
  • “You’re not active enough–your girlfriend runs track and you should try that too.”   (My Mom thinks I make no efforts at being active.  My friend is thin and my Mom is not happy with the way that I look.)

This language and pressure can set up a perpetual cycle of disappointment, low self-worth, and ultimately sabotage any efforts a child is attempting at a healthier lifestyle. Parents can be more conscious of their language, by using a “think before you speak” approach.   Be a proactive and positive supporter of your child with regard to food and nutrition:  feed with an authoritative parenting style and lead by example.

Hinder not…or you, the parent, become a hindrance.

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A three-letter word that stings, slaps, and scars.  Modifications of this word hurt just as much.  Unjustified use is common.

Fat.  Fatso.  Fatty.  I consider these “F’ words.  Unspeakable and with rank and power as high as some of the dirtiest words in the common colloquiem of our nation.

What does “fat” mean?  Too much adipose tissue?  A size XL?  Bigger than your peers?  Unfortunately, when it comes to kids, there is no clear-cut indicator for its use.  The word can be used to describe just about anyone, whether its use is justified or not, scientifically proven or not, based on fact or just unrealistic perceptions.  But what it really means is “less than”, “not good enough”, “ugly”, “inadequate”…or at least that’s the message that kid’s internalize when they are labeled with this word. 

“Just joking…”  Even its use in joke form, turns a funny into a flub.  Amazingly, when the “F” word is used, children listen – 376661752_ea66a3f8bfand sometimes hear much more than intended.  The “F” word is a serious one, calling into question self-value, attractiveness, peer acceptance, and one’s role in social circles.

A February 2009 study in Social Development looked at the psychological impact of weight-related teasing in 7th graders who were enrolled in weight loss camp.  Through a self-reported questionnaire, researchers found that the adolescents demonstrated decreased psychological functioning, lowered self-esteem, increased depressive symptoms and reduced social involvement–these results appeared regardless of how frequently these teens had been teased.  Bottom line:  A child doesn’t have to hear it often to feel the sting.

The use of the “F” word can result in lasting damage—a broken self-esteem, a poor body image, more weight gain, or disordered eating.  And it can set the stage for a lifetime of battles and wars against food and eating.

So, what can we do?  Parents–outlaw the “F” word in your home, just as you do other 4-letter words.  The “F” word may be far more dangerous to your child.  Set an example and don’t use the “F” word…it’s a put-down, a pejorative, and a bummer to hear a grown adult use it.  Focus your efforts on instilling self-worth, passions, and an appreciation for differences in people!

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When my daughter decided she wanted to try out for her school cheerleading squad, I was…ummm…ambiguous, concerned, worried, reserved.  I guess my long days of seeing young teen girls with low self-esteem and body image distortion were clouding my vision–or were they?  Maybe I was just a worried mother who was afraid of neck injury, back injury, and a wheelchair?  Or was I concerned that my daughter would get the message that perky prettiness was more important than brains and brawn?  Certainly, I knew the physical demands of cheering were equal to a vigorous workout and I had heard from other coaches that cheerleaders take on more bumps and bruises than perhaps, football players.  But, I was nervous…about all of it.

When my daughter came home and told me that she was to be one of the flyers (you know, the ones that get tossed up in the air and hurtled through space?!), I put on my brave and neutral face, and said, “Well honey, that’s great!”.  As time marched on, and twice weekly practices were the norm, I noticed that I tended to wait in the car for my daughter, rather than go in and watch the tail end of practice, like so many of the other mothers.   I told myself that I would wait to watch her …until when?  Until she told me she was perfectly perfect at all the stunts?  Safe?  Still grounded in her self, her spirit and self-confidence?  Still naturally beautiful?  I asked her questions targeted at her self-esteem and the dynamics of the group.  She always said, ” Practice was great!”.  I was searching for a drawback, a down-side to the experience, but was coming up empty-handed.

Despite my ambiguity, as the weeks turned into months, I couldn’t help but notice the little split jumps my daughter would do as she walked behind the couch, or the abrupt moments of getting up from the dinner table to bang out a move or two from her dance repertoire.  Our family enjoyed these moments.  We could actually see her improve and develop her skills throughout these months of dedicated practice.

Last night was the end-all, be-all cheer competition, the final finale of teams against teams, loud re-mixed versions of “Boom Boom Pow” and other songs I couldn’t begin to define.  As my daughter and her cheer team approached the stage, I sat amazed at the talent in front of me.  Their crisp movements. Their confidence and poise.   The wonderful show of sportsmanship to the fellow teams.  And the sweet and sincere support the team had for each other. 

I rest now, of clear mind and contented fears, assured that my daughter has benefited from cheerleading– in self-confidence, poise, and the knowledge that hard work REALLY does pay off.  The dividends of a positive team experience are numerous.  Yes, a trophy is always a nice reminder of the event, but the lasting pride, self-esteem, and inner satisfaction a girl, like my 7th grade daughter, can muster in the days to come  have exponential rewards.

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Feeding children is one of the greatest responsibilities a parent has…and the most repetetive, challenging, and sometimes mundane chore.  As our society’s obsession to be fit and trim is increasingly imposed upon our children, we, as parents, are faced with confusing and conflicting messages about proper feeding, healthful foods, and optimal levels of nutrition.  How do parents respond to this evolving and unattainable standard of perfect nutrition?   Often times, with restrictive feeding.  With good intention, of course–to give our kids just the right foods, in the right amounts, so that they get every nutrient they could possibly need, in the right amounts, so that they are just the right size and shape.  Sound familiar? 

What is restrictive feeding?  In a nutshell, controlling every little bite that goes into your much-loved child.  Controlling portions (think pre-portioned plates), purchasing diet, low-calorie, or fat-free manufactured foods, and limiting second helpings at the dinner table–these are all signs of restrictive feeding.   This practice, on a regular basis, can lead to a backlash of overeating, often away from the watchful eye of mom and dad.  Why?  Because kids may feel deprived when they don’t have the freedom to control what and how much they eat–and they may be hungrier than you think. 

Research indicates that restrictive feeding is NOT working for our children and may be promoting an environment of overeating.  Most interestingly, not only do these studies link restrictive feeding practices to weight gain, they also link parents’ perceptions of their child’s weight to restrictive feeding behaviors, not unlike those mentioned above.  In other words, if you think your child is “big” or gaining too much weight, you are more likely to control every little bite they eat.  And like adults, kids want what they can’t or don’t have–it’s human nature–but unlike adults, kids have less control over their biological drive to eat.  This situation can be a set-up for “overeating on the sly”, ultimately derailing a child’s sense of honesty with themselves and their parents,  eroding their self-esteem, and potentially promoting a culture of disordered eating.

Choosing WHAT we feed our children will always be important to their ultimate health.  WHAT we feed really matters. 

But, perhaps we need to begin paying more attention to HOW we feed our young’uns.  Remember, providing an abundant table of healthy food is both satisfying to the eye and to the tummy.  Feeling hungry and being able to satisfy that hunger is more than a full belly–it’s emotional fullness too.  And maybe feeling emotionally and physically full is what it takes to stop a backlash of overeating in our children.

Which leads to my next post…WHAT you feed matters!

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