Teaching My Kids to Be Fit, Not Skinny

Kids Swimming

Photo by Kim Silkebækken

Although my kids are only 3.5 and 6.5 years old, I already worry about their perceptions of body image. My son has asked, “Does this make me look fat?” When I asked him where he heard that, he said Jamie Hyneman from The Mythbusters once said it. He’s also learned to say, “I feel sexy!” from Jamie. He doesn’t understand yet what these phrases mean, and it seems innocuous, but I know that before I know it, they’re going to be in middle school, and they will be much more aware of and more concerned about their appearance.

I want to kick myself every time I tell my daughter that she looks “pretty.” Then I wonder if I’m overreacting. I find myself telling her, “You know, princesses aren’t just pretty. They’re courageous, kind, and generous.” She’s usually too busy dancing around to pay any attention though.

Although Kaylee does enjoy wearing poofy dresses, I’m grateful she also still wears pants and T-shirts with them. She is willing to get dirty, which is a big relief to me. It would bother me a lot if she refused to do some activities because she didn’t want to get her dress dirty. To me, that kind of “princess” is much worse than dressing like a Disney princess. Kaylee at least is still active, and not trying to act like a porcelain doll or something.

I’ve noticed that Kaylee only has one pair of pants with pockets. Is that a “girl” thing, or is it just that preschoolers’ clothes don’t have pockets?

I’m very careful not to remark that I feel fat or that I feel bad about my body. I try to remind my kids that people’s bodies come in many different shapes and sizes, and they’re all okay.

Zach has already said that he thought his uncle was “lazy” because he has a big belly, and he’s always napping. My brother-in-law is a pretty active guy, and he does tend to nod off when he’s just hanging out on the couch because it’s much less stimulating than when he’s working in his wood shop. When I asked Zach where he’d gotten the idea of being “lazy,” he said it was from some Thomas the Tank Engine episode. Clearly my kids watch too much TV.

I’m hoping that emphasizing eating healthy and exercising will teach my kids about the importance of being fit and strong rather than having a particular body shape, size, or weight.

I’m terrified of either or both of my kids developing an eating disorder when they’re teenagers, since so many teens do. If they develop depression or anxiety, which runs in my family, they’re probably more susceptible to having eating issues.

I don’t know how much of what I do now makes a difference later, but I’m hoping that I’m laying a solid foundation of body acceptance that will last into adulthood. Thankfully, both kids are quite active. Kaylee loves dance and gymnastics, Zach loves doing Wushu (a Chinese martial art), and they both enjoy swimming.

What do you do to encourage your kids to accept and love their bodies?

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4 thoughts on “Teaching My Kids to Be Fit, Not Skinny

  1. ks February 20, 2014 at 10:11 pm Reply

    I differentiate food between what makes you strong and what is just a treat to be eaten sparingly. Somehow a third level in between developed for “snacks” like gold fish.

    I think they do start them early with the no pockets in girls clothes thing. I browsed toddler winter coats (in exactly one store) and the girl jackets were way less practical overall including smaller pockets. In general though, her clothes have more pockets and are way better made than my clothes.

    Your brother in law could be tired from being up all night doing cool fireman stuff.

    • Frankie Laursen February 26, 2014 at 10:30 am Reply

      I love the third category for goldfish crackers.

      I love what this dad wrote to his daughter:

      I worry more about what my kids will learn from their friends and from the media about what beauty looks like.

  2. Mara Migraineur February 22, 2014 at 1:22 pm Reply

    I grew up running with my father – off and on. He was (and still is) devoted to his exercise, but my mother was not and I wanted to provide a different example for my children. Of course, then along came migraines and exercise is a tricky, tricky business. There is a hyper-fine line between just the right amount and too much – causing a migraine. It’s so frustrating. My husband loves to go hiking and biking – and does so with the kids, but I think he wishes I could participate more frequently (and he would do it more frequently if I participated, too). So frustrating.

    • Frankie Laursen February 26, 2014 at 10:25 am Reply

      I’m sure your family appreciates you doing as much exercise as you comfortably can, and refraining when you need to. Are you able to do light hiking? I’m really enjoying doing that with Zach.

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