By Jessi Kohlhagen
“To love yourself as you are is a miracle,
and to see yourself is to have found yourself, for now.
And now is all we have… and love is who we are.”
– Anne Lamott
As parents, it’s up to us to teach our children to love their bodies.
We get the sacred task of showing them how to respect and enjoy their beautiful form, even when the world gives them so many reasons to do the opposite.
To remind them that they get only one, that it is sacred and miraculous, and to cherish every moving moment.
To instill confidence and self-love in them, by demonstrating what it looks like, how it feels, how it moves.
To teach them that their bodies are magical in what they can perform, that they are constantly changing, and worth loving no matter what.
Here are 20 ways we can raise our kids to love and respect all bodies — most of all, their own.
1. Don’t insult anyone’s body (including your own!)
Not even jokingly or half-seriously. Treat every body as worthy of love and respect.
2. Accept compliments gracefully and gratefully
Deflecting compliments teaches that the proper response is self-criticism instead of self-acceptance. It sends the message that you’re unsatisfied with your body, regardless of its positive qualities. A simple and gracious “thank you,” without any qualifiers, can work wonders.
3. Affirm that every body is different, and it’s okay
Expose your kids to all kinds of body images. Show them that human beings are short, tall, large, small, bony, soft, dark, light and everything in between. Teach your children to embrace the differences — and seek health and happiness above all else.
4. Teach them to find the beauty in everything
Show your children that everything has beauty, even when some cannot see it. Teach them to notice the beauty – to find something to cherish and appreciate in everything they encounter. Redefine beauty and loveliness.
5. Touch, and be touched
Show your kids how comfortable you are with physical interaction – with them, and with others. Let them crawl on you and be close to you… demonstrate positive physical affection with your partner, and with the people you love.
6. Show them how much you love your own body
Be comfortable in your own skin and embrace all parts of yourself (even if you’re actively working to better them). Accept this moment and find joy and peace in it.
7. Normalize nakedness
Be naked around your kids, and let them be naked. Teach them that nudity is a natural and beautiful freedom for all. Sing and dance naked together and celebrate the joy of having a body.
8. Teach them that there’s nothing dirty about their bodies
There are no ‘dirty’ parts. There’s nothing that makes them gross. They simply have private parts that belong only to them.
9. Be generous with all kinds of compliments
See the good in people, and don’t be afraid to speak it out loud. Show them how to genuinely value others, and demonstrate the power of positive and sincere compliments.
10. Get in the pool
No matter how uncomfortable you feel in a swimsuit. Preventing yourself from doing things you enjoy because you don’t like your image can have a huge impact on kids. Don’t skip the fun stuff just because you don’t look “perfect.”
11. Let them choose the way they want to look
Encourage your kids to dress in whatever is comfortable and brings them joy. This helps them develop their own unique sense of style and creativity, as well as the confidence to express it fearlessly.
12. Encourage mindful eating
Talk about food. Grow some of your own. Learn about seeds and processing and where food comes from. Involve your kids in choosing foods and preparing them. Eat at the table and away from the TV. Explore a variety of textures, flavors, and colors — and always be open to trying new things.
13. Teach them that menstruation is a natural and beautiful gift
Don’t make your children feel gross for having their periods. Don’t cover your ears when someone brings up tampons or pads or bleeding. Don’t make a big deal when buying supplies, or make her hide them. Teach them to be in tune with their cycle and pay attention to what it brings. Teach them to love this intimate communion with their body. And don’t forget to educate young boys about periods too.
14. Expose them to all different kinds of bodies, looks and styles
Raise your kids to see the entire rainbow spectrum of human bodies as normal. Expose them to different cultures and people from a young age.
15. Emphasize wellness and self-love
Above all else, show your children that their body is meant to be well cared for, and loved. We are not meant to be at war with ourselves. We are meant to rejoice in being alive, and strengthen and express our vitality. Sometimes this means striving for better behaviors… and sometimes it means accepting and loving and cherishing ourselves exactly as we are. Usually, it’s both.
16. Find pleasure in movement
Exercise should be seen as an opportunity to connect with your body, to commune with it and come to know and understand it. Conscious movement is liberating and energizing… a blessed sanctuary in the sometimes robotic motions of everyday life. Teach them to fall in love with moving and grooving.
17. Teach them about their heritage, history and background
Tell the story of their family line. Teach them where they get their curly hair from, their eyes, their ears. Show them the richness of their culture, and the awesomeness of being who they are. Let them carry their family’s legacy with pride and joy.
18. Don’t nitpick
Let your kids evolve into their own bodies in their own time. Lead by example, not by preaching and teaching all the time. Give them the space to discover the uniqueness of who they are. Empower your kids, don’t criticize them.
19. Always remind them of their incredible beauty
Admire them out loud. When you feel it, speak it. When you see it, say it. Let your love and wonder for who they are fill you up, and reflect it back to them as often as you can.
20. Thank your body
Do it often and out loud. Thank it for being your home. For loving you no matter what you do. For quickly regaining its strength after being challenged with sleeplessness, over-indulgence, illness and falls. For always striving to eliminate the bad and utilize the good. For continually calling you to grow stronger, and become more balanced and aware. Thank it again and again, and teach your children to do the same.