By Wendy Wolfson
Each day is filled with choices, starting from the second we open our eyes in the morning. Do I hit snooze, or get up and get my butt in gear? Coffee or tea? Choices, even the little ones, are what make up our days and experiences.
Arming my children with the confidence to make smart choices is an every day effort. When it comes to making a choice to have a healthy lifestyle, I try to start from within and lead by example.
I have a smart, sassy, silly 9-year-old daughter who is starting to notice her body and how she feels in it. That blissful body unawareness that babies, toddlers, and younger children have is starting to disappear and morph into recognition of who she is, and, sometimes, who she wants to be.
I know this will one day also happen with her younger brother, so my husband and I approach this topic as a family.
We encourage our kids to move - however they want and as often as they can. We want them to eat when they're hungry and enjoy their food. Most of all, we want them to see themselves as strong, and accept whatever body that comes in.
I grew up in the ‘80s in the height of the aerobics heyday. Fitness magazines popped up everywhere, and I got my first taste of fitness from a Jane Fonda videotape (woo hoo!). I was also a dancer, which is not easy when you're more on the curvy side. I taped down my chest to make it smaller, and hated that I had to deal with the nuisance of a bra when wearing costumes. This lead to critiquing and picking my body apart, worrying to the point where I stopped looking at my person as a whole, and just saw the trouble spots — for years.
I only began to break out of that negative body outlook when I had my children, and realized there is a gift in each of our bodies and their amazing capabilities. All I want is for my children to learn this lesson sooner than I did, and not waste their energy with negative thoughts.
Recently my daughter came home from ballet class noticing how she looked in her bodysuit. We talked about what she observed about herself in the mirror, and then we looked at both of our bodies and how we have similarities and differences. We talked about the arch in her lower back, how it's just like mine, and that it's been handed down to her - as it was to me - like a gift from her great, great grandparents. She's now carrying on a family body "tradition," a little piece of her family history.
I don't expect this to be the last conversation, and I truly hope that she always feels comfortable enough to come to me to discuss these issues.
There are a few steps I try to take in my everyday life to help my children develop positive body images. Here are a few:
1. We don't discuss how other people look, instead we discuss how they make us feel. This is not to say we don't notice a cute pair of shoes or new dress (oh we do!), but there are no judgments on who is wearing them.
2. I don't have fashion/lifestyle magazines in the house, but we do talk about how sometimes photos are not "real." I feel it's important for children to know about airbrushing and Photoshop, and how those tools are used in advertising and media.
3. We feed our kids when they're hungry, but encourage smart choices. We like to follow the "eating a rainbow" method, where their plate is colorful and diverse.
4. I am always armed with easy, go-to snacks to avoid making a "hungry decision." Right now we're all really into roasted pumpkin seeds with a little sea salt.
5. We treat our bodies with respect, which means no body bashing - of our bodies or of others.
6. Exercise is never used as a means of combating something we ate.
Hopefully as my children grow and more of their choices become their own, they'll have the confidence to know that health and strength comes from within.
Wendy Wolfson has had a life-long passion for health, fitness, dance and music. Above anything else, she believes that proper fitness is integral to balance and success in the most important facets of life - family, career, relationships, and fundamental happiness. Wendy's love for music and movement started at the age of five; she studied tap, jazz and ballet for over 15 years and, after graduating college, channeled her love for dance into fitness. Wendy happily put her event planning career on hold to stay home with her family full time in 2005. This was a period of great joy and satisfaction for her, but also a time spent learning how to balance the priorities of a family with the necessity of self-maintenance - something all parents experience. It was then that Wendy discovered her passion for indoor cycling and became a certified spinning instructor.