Sunday, January 2, 2011
Body Image and Your FIVE YEAR OLD?
Q: Maya, age 5, keeps coming home from kindergarten telling me she doesn't want to get fat! What is she learning? Who is telling her this stuff and what do I say??
A: You want to know who's telling her this stuff? Ask her! The first thing you need to do, before you react, is find out what's going on in Maya's world. Who's she been talking to, what are they saying, and why doesn't she want to get fat? Why is fat "bad?" Does she know how people get fat? What does she know and what does she believe?
Once you find out exactly what you're dealing with, there are several issues you need to tackle. The first one is self-image. If you don't tell Maya, she won't know that the most important part of her, and of any person, is what's inside. No matter what she or anyone does, nothing's going to change who she is. If she's a good person who cares about others, helps them and shares with them, she's a beautiful person INSIDE and that's the only part of her that matters.
Ask her who she likes to be with. What do these people have in common with each other: Do they look alike? Are they all tall? Brunettes? Blue-eyed? The same age? Probably not. These physical, external factors do not make them the people they are - the people she wants to be around. She likes who she likes because they are kind or fun to be with. That's what makes them beautiful inside. And people are going to like her if she displays those same qualities - it doesn't matter what she looks like on the outside!
The next issue you should discuss with Maya is health. It's true that in general it's not a good thing to be overweight, but that's not because of how it makes you look. It's because usually it's not healthy for your body. What's important here, though, is that she learn a lesson in good nutrition. At the end of the day, again, it's not what's outside but what's inside that counts. If Maya - or anyone - eats the right foods in the right amounts, it doesn't matter what she looks like because her insides are healthy.
I'd teach her about the food pyramid. (Is the food pyramid even the model nutritionists go by anymore? Who cares, really. It's a good, simple way to teach the food groups and what's healthy and what's not.) Teach her about the different kinds of food - starches like bread, rice, cereal and pasta - and what they do - give our bodies energy. Dairy products - milk, cheese and yogurt - help build strong teeth and bones, etc. Show her on the pyramid how many servings of each we need to make us grow healthy and strong. At the top of the pyramid are sweets and junk. This means not to eat very much of them because not only don't they contribute any nutrition to our bodies, but they also fill us up so we don't have room for the healthy foods our body does need.
If we follow the food pyramid and eat the right amounts of the foods that are good for our bodies and help us grow - and we keep fit by exercising, playing outside, and not sitting around being couch potatoes - chances are we won't get fat.
Finally, I'm sure you're well aware of how much what we parents say and do seeps into our kids' minds and hearts. I'm on a low-carb diet but I am very careful not to let on to my kids because the next thing I know they'd be saying they don't want to eat bread or pasta or cereal either. Once in awhile they'll offer to share their candy with me and I'll say "No thank you, Mommy tries not to eat junk because it's not healthy." But be aware of how you talk about and look at your own body, because even when you think Maya's not paying attention, she is!
When it comes down to it, Maya needs to understand that getting fat is not something she needs to worry about. The most important message you can give her is that all she needs to focus on is being a good, kind person, because at the end of the day, that's what's going to make her friends like her and that's what's going to take her far in this world.
Posted by Netanya Carmi at 1:18 PM