Monkey see, monkey do: Teaching your kid to love their body starts with you

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WATCH: 3 tips to teach your kids about body positivity – May 2, 2019

One day in January 2017, mom-of-two Kirsten Bosly had an epiphany about her body.

She was on her way to the beach with her kids when she realized she wanted photos to remember the day.

The only problem was she hated pictures of herself.

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“I didn’t like my body and I was nervous of being judged or shamed about my size. I didn’t feel attractive — I just felt vulnerable and exposed,” Bosly told Global News.

But she took some photos with her children anyway and even shared her story to Facebook in the hopes it would help others set a good example for their kids.

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“They’re like super sponges right now,” she said. “If they see a parent who is content in their own skin and confident in who they are, they’ll emulate that.”

READ MORE: Is your child struggling with weight, body image? Here’s how parents can help

The photo went viral, with hundreds of people sharing their gratitude in the comments.

“I think I have my new motto: yes, my body isn’t perfect, but it has blessed us with three kids here on this earth … This year, we are trying to go on a family trip in July. I am going to make a point to put my camera in the hands of my husband and use my tripod more!” wrote Facebook user Denise Wolfram Caspell.

Since then, Bosly has totally shifted the way she treats her own body, and she believes it’s had a lasting effect on the self-confidence of her children.

“On the whole, their body image is pretty healthy. If it gets challenged, then we talk about that openly together,” she said.

“I encourage the kids to reframe negative things they say about themselves into something less detrimental for their little brains. I try to teach them that if you say, ‘I’m stupid’ to yourself enough, you may end up believing it.”

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Bosly believes that this combination of modelling body-positive behaviour and having open discussions about struggling with self-love has made her children more confident and proud of their bodies.

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Dr. Alice Wiafe wholeheartedly endorses this approach.

She works as the director of Positive Kids, Canada’s first off-site facility dedicated to working with parents and school systems to offer a curriculum for teaching emotional intelligence.

“A lot of parents love to tell their children what to do … (but) we know that children are more impacted by what they see and their experiences with you and the behaviours that you model versus what you tell them,” she said.

For Wiafe, it doesn’t matter that you tell your child they’re beautiful if you follow it by squeezing your own stomach and talking about how much weight you’ve gained.

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“It’s really hard to help them when we’re struggling ourselves,” said Wiafe. “It’s important to be honest and candid about that struggle.”

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The message you want to send is that nobody is perfect, but the goal is to be the best you can be.

“The goal is balance … Where is the place where I feel good within myself?” Wiafe said. Showing your kids that you’re trying to find your balance will help them do the same.

In the social media age, children need a voice of reason on their side. Wiafe believes being that voice is the parent’s responsibility.

“It’s really important that the voice within the home is louder than any other voice kids are hearing on social media,” she said. “It’s so defining, it’s so loud … it’s a parent’s job to present a different truth.”

For a look at how today’s parents are teaching body positivity, Global News asked Canadian parents to share their approaches. Here’s what they said.

Your language matters

Sarah Nicole Landry, a mom of three from Guelph, can’t stress the importance of language enough. Her Instagram account about body positivity has more than 260,000 followers.

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“Diet culture is everywhere, but home is a safe place,” Landry said.

“We don’t use scales or discuss calories or even speak to ourselves with words of unkindness. Kids learn from what they see so being an example to them is very important to me.”

Toronto dad Aron Harris echoes this sentiment. He says he was an “insecure, fat kid” growing up, which made him the subject of criticism and cruel jokes from his peers.

“I remember the very few, odd days in elementary school where I didn’t get called fat more than the ones I did,” Harris said.

His childhood was a tough lesson in body image, but he now realizes that his experiences make him a better parent to his two children.

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“I relate my own feelings about experiences from when I was their age to show that I understand how they feel,” he said. “If you show your kids that, no matter what, you love and support them, they’ll be more open to discussion about body positivity.”

Ditch the numbers

For Dara Bergeron, feeling good about her body has a lot to do with letting go of the numbers on the scale.

She’s the co-creator of Belly Bootcamp, an exercise program focused on training during pregnancy and after birth.

After the birth of her third child, she realized she’d been expending “mountains of mental and physical energy” in an effort to conform to societal expectations. When she stopped, she was able to start caring for her body in a different way.

“I unfollowed social media accounts which featured ‘perfect’ bodies. I stopped subscribing to women’s magazines. I stopped looking in the mirror so much. I stopped trying to hide parts of my body. I stopped dieting,” she said.

“Interestingly, as I stopped dissecting myself, I also started seeing other bodies with more tolerance and love. And as I started filling my social media with more diverse bodies, I dissected myself less.”

READ MORE: Poor body image in teen girls leads to more alcohol consumption: study

Bosly preaches a similar technique.

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“I don’t know if I’ve learned (body positivity) fully yet,” she said. “I still struggle with doubts about my mummy-tummy and my extra chins, but those feelings don’t take up nearly as much space as they used to.”

Bosly says she practices a lot of positive self-talk to get herself out of that negative headspace.

“There are always days when I need to remind myself of my ‘goodness’ (think monthly bloat), and even though it’s habitual to slip into ‘I hate myself’ mode, it’s just as easy to talk your way in the other direction. One that feels infinitely better, too!” she said.

Be proud of your own body

For dad David Lee, whose daughter and son are mixed race, it’s especially important that his children see how proud he is of his body.

“(When I was younger), I was teased quite a bit for being overweight … I was also teased for being a minority in a mostly white neighbourhood so I know what it feels like to be stigmatized for your physical appearance,” Lee said.

To combat this with his own kids, he and his partner aim to be positive role models.

“We try to mention eating well, exercising and taking care of yourself, but within the context of health and not physical appearance,” Lee said.

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“I just try to teach them to be kind to others and I think the rest follows from that.”

Similarly, Bergeron takes deliberate action to model self-love for her kids each and every day.

“I walk around naked! I go from (the) shower to getting dressed naked. I let them in my room when I’m changing and I never reference my body, examine it or express any desire to change it. My body simply is,” she said.

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“We discuss getting stronger, running faster, practicing the skills needed for our sports and activities, but we do not discuss calories, fatness, weight or size.”

Bergeron also tries to find media with diverse representation.

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“I point out beauty in people whose bodies are different. I bring books home from the library that feature characters who look different from us,” she said. “I praise their strength and intelligence and kindness and humour — never their appearance.”

However, the mom of three stresses that your own self-love won’t come overnight — and that’s OK.

“Don’t be afraid to ‘fake it until you make it.’ You won’t stop feeling self-conscious just because you unfollowed a few social media accounts. It will take your brain months, or even years, to change its perspective,” Bergeron said.

“Every time you stop yourself from making a diet reference in front of your children, you put a drop in their bucket and in yours. Each time you take them for a walk and stop yourself from referencing calories or show them an incredible dancer whose body is larger or walk naked past them in the hallway in all your real-life glory, you open a world to them and yourself where it can be OK to just be who you are.”

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