Parents want their children to grow up and take great care of themselves, so they make sure their kids have umbrellas on rainy days and get to the dentist for regular check-ups. They may not understand, however, the importance of modeling excellent self-care for their children who are more likely to do what they see than what they’re told to do. In fact, when parents take good care of their children and not so great care of themselves, kids get a confusing double message which is sure to have negative self-care ramifications down the road.
For example, I had a friend who did everything to keep her daughter happy and healthy, including making absolutely sure that the car didn’t start without her daughter’s seat belt being tucked tightly around her. Oddly, my friend often didn’t wear her own seat belt. Once I took her daughter somewhere in my car and buckled us both up. Sadly, this little girl asked, “Why doesn’t Mommy wear her seat belt? Doesn’t she love herself as much as she loves me?” Truly, children find it very confusing when parents take exquisite care of them but don’t live by the same rules.
If you want your children to eat healthfully and be active, you have to be their role models. It’s not enough to feed them well and feed yourself poorly, or to tell them to get out there and move their bodies while you sit night after night watching TV on the couch. Of course, it’s better that you give them guidance that will benefit them than not, but it doesn’t work in shaping them. You have to walk the walk to get mentally and physically healthy children.
With food that means eating healthfully. With fitness that means getting out there and giving it your best shot at being active no matter what condition you’re in. The take-away message is that you care enough about yourself to try to be healthy. You want them to know that you have one body and it’s wise to take care of it. Moreover, you want to let them know that self-care isn’t an on-and-off thing. You want to demonstrate that you love your body all the time and always want the best for it.
If you diet then binge, join a gym and stop going in a month, buy a bicycle and use it for a week before storing it in the basement, make rules about nutritious eating one day and break them the next, your kids will get the message that self-care isn’t a constant but comes and goes. Not true. It’s a 24/7 endeavor when you love yourself all the time. The bottom line is that if you don’t love yourself 100%, you won’t take care of yourself consistently which means you’ll be modeling the wrong behaviors for your children around food and fitness. So, do the very best you can in showing your kids how you want them to act. Believe me, they’ll thank you for it.
– Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed., is a licensed psychotherapist, motivational speaker, and international author who has specialized in the field of compulsive, emotional, and restrictive eating for 30 years. She received a B.A. from Boston University, an M.Ed. from Antioch College, and an M.S.W. from Simmons College School of Social Work. Currently she lives, teaches, and practices in Sarasota, Florida.