Promoting Mental Wellness in Our Kids

For those of you who are parents, teachers, coaches, or any adult who influences kids, it is a well-known idea that our kids will look at us and our habits and often learn their own habits and ideas from us. Sure, as they get older their social circles and the media will impact them as well, but there’s little doubt that we are pretty influential on them. Not to mention, we can only control so much, so we want our influence to be as positive as it can. With that said, many parents may pay attention to their language and any detrimental behaviors that they may view as a negative impact on their kids. Those are certainly good things to keep in mind, but what about our other habits and ideas?

How do you approach your own body image? I was recently listening to an interview by a young woman about a pivotal time in her life. When she was middle school aged, she’d been called “fat” by some boys on the bus. It certainly upset her, but because of positive interactions with her mother, who had always been confident in her own body image in front of her daughter, and her track coach, she was able to get past it and overcome what she feels would have been a very different mental state in her life. She is currently a healthy, confident woman, author, and trainer, aware of the danger of negative body image but grateful to the positive influences in her life when she needed them the most.

Body image, by definition, is the subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body. By being a “subjective” idea of one’s body, it is based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.  Recent studies by the Mental Health Foundation show that poor body image can affect all ages and may trigger reactions from anxiety and self-disgust to suicidal thoughts.  As we grow older it is very common for us to judge our bodies and to highlight any physical imperfections we may have. It is not only important to address any concerns we have and to take good care of ourselves, but it is important that we do it in a healthy way. Our kids absorb so much more from us than the things we want them to learn-colors, shapes, numbers. They absorb our ideas and habits. They are watching, and they can absorb ideas about us that may impact how they view their own bodies as they get older.  Girls in particular are especially sensitive to ideas about their body image and feedback from others, but no one is immune. Puberty tends to be the time we think of individuals being most sensitive, but it’s also important to be kind to ourselves and others during other more sensitive times such as pregnancy, menopause, receding hairlines, or growing older and needing to rely on aids such as canes and walkers.

What do we do? Please seek help in this area if needed to work on your own body image, whether you feel you need a professional’s help or a trusted friend to talk to. As a rule to strive for, do not say something to yourself that you would not say to your child, because they are more likely to pick up the habits you are instilling in them and have the same issues down the road. More directly, how do you speak to your children about their own bodies, and what kind of health habits are you setting them up with in caring for themselves and their bodies? When it comes to your health, rather than chasing the latest diet trend, adopt healthier habits for life, those that can be sustained and are attainable for the whole family. It is often said that many chronic health issues are genetic. Some really are, but most have what is known as a genetic predisposition. A genetic predisposition is a genetic characteristic which influences the possible development of an individual under the influence of environmental conditions. Genetics may “load the gun”, but the environment “pulls the trigger”. Many trends seen throughout generations are from repeated exposure to the same environment-diet choices, movement habits or lack thereof, and ideas of what health really is.

There are no shortcuts to a healthy life, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Healthy choices today pay off in your own life and generations to come, both physically and mentally. Please be kind to yourself, and in turn kinder to the next generation. They are counting on us.

In good health,

Dr. Emily

ev corn maze