Parents don't "give" their children eating
disorders. But the environment some parents foster in the home encourages some kids
to adopt unhealthy attitudes and behaviors about food and body image - things
that can turn into a full-blown case of anorexia or bulimia.
Are the hopes and dreams you have for your child too focused
on beauty or having a particular body shape? Bad idea. It's essential to avoid
passing along - especially to daughters - the idea that "I will like you
more if you lose weight, don't each so much, look more like the slender models
in ads, fit into smaller clothes, etc." And avoid teasing, criticizing, or
blaming in ways that suggest that fat is bad and thin is good. Even staring can
send the wrong message.
Mistake: Keeping your mouth shut
Parents and kids alike are exposed to all sorts of ideas and
attitudes about body size and appearance - including some pretty toxic ones. Ignoring
that doesn't do any good. Instead, parents should educate their kids about how
there's no such thing as a "perfect" body, and that "weightism"
and other forms of prejudice against fat people are unacceptable.
Mistake: Letting embarrassment get in the way
Some parents, especially those who are overweight, avoid
swimming, dancing, and other activities that might call attention to their
"figure flaws." Others try to draw attention away from their bodies
by selecting clothing not on the basis of comfort but to hide their bodies.
Both behaviors send the message to kids that a less-than-ideal body shape is a
thing of shame. Better not to worry about what others thing of your body.
Mistake: Focusing on appearance
Parents should pay attention to what people - including
their own children - say, feel, and do. How well "put together" children appear
shifts the focus to the wrong thing.
Mistake: Setting a bad example
Children pay attention to what their parents do. If you have
bad eating habits and fail to exercise, your kids may get the idea that that's
the right way to be. Similarly, if you label some foods "bad" and
others "good," you may be skewing your children's ideas about
nutrition. There is no such thing as a bad or good food. All foods can be eaten
Mistake: Exercising for the wrong reasons
Exercise is, or should be, about the joy of feeling your
body move and feeling strong and fit. If mom spends five hours a day on the
treadmill, that may be sending the message that exercise is about getting rid of
calories - or trying to create the "perfect" body. For vulnerable
kids, those are very toxic messages.
Mistake: Ignoring the effects of the media
The media bombard us with images of and ideas about body
size and weight, about who looks fabulous and who's pathetic. Parents should
help their children appreciate the sometimes-subtle messages sent by TV,
magazines, music, and the Internet -and
how these messages can distort attitudes about our bodies and those of
Mistake: Putting kids on a diet
Even if your child is overweight, it's best to consult a
doctor before restricting a child's caloric intake. Whatever the doctor says,
do what you can to encourage children to be physically active and to enjoy what
their bodies can do and feel like.
Mistake: Ignoring matters of self-esteem
Healthy self-esteem may be the single more important factor in
protecting a child against the development of an eating disorder. So remind
your children of their intellectual, athletic, and social achievements. Be sure
to give boys and girls the same opportunities. Exempting your son from
housework or childcare can make your daughter believe that females are somehow
less important than males.