When it comes to fitness and body image issues, women are usually featured or targeted. We are more concerned with our image and often the vision of ourselves is misguided or skewed. A good example is the Dove Real Beauty Sketches commercial. In this commercial, women describe themselves to a sketch artist and discover what they see is a negative version of what others see. On the flip side, a parody of this commercial was done with men describing themselves to an artist, each sketch resulting in a man as handsome as Brad Pitt.
It’s natural then, for us to be concerned about our daughters and their relationship with exercise and their own body image. I recently read some posts about what people wanted their daughters to know about fitness, focusing on body image and exercise. But what about our sons? I watch my son and his friends as they try and pick each other up. They are at the age where older is better; bigger, taller, stronger is better. This is the kind of “body image” issue they deal with, and it’s just as important to address. Our children need to know fitness is about more than just aesthetics and brute strength. As adults, we can lead by example and use exercise as an opportunity to teach our daughters and sons life lessons such as work ethic, strength, emotional-well being, and a healthy body image.
What Exercise Can Teach Our Children
1.) Work Ethic
Success takes effort, elbow grease, and sweat. This is figurative, but literal when it comes to exercise. A good work ethic is made up of hard work and diligence, and exercise can be another way of conveying that to our children. Whatever your goal may be – weight loss, the Couch to 5k plan, getting in the recommended 10,000 steps a day – share that plan with your kids and let them see you stick to it. Let them know you have a goal and your plan to achieve it.
Another aspect of a good work ethic is time management. For us (my husband and I), exercise is a part of our day and is something that gets incorporated into the family schedule like anything else. We talk about how the day is going to go and if we have plans for exercise, how we can each squeeze it in. It’s not always easy and sometimes we don’t feel like it. But I think it is beneficial for our kids to hear us talk about it. They see both time management and communication between two people on the same team. Sometimes it even results in conflict resolution!
“Strength doesn’t come from what you CAN do. It comes from overcoming the things you thought you once couldn’t do.” – Anonymous
My kids have seen me fall out of yoga poses a lot. Sometimes I’m really frustrated (bad yogi!) and other times I’m in tears from laughing so hard at myself. But the important thing is that I keep trying, and I hope they see that. Trying to get better at something or overcoming an obstacle takes strength, determination, and a sense of humor. I hope when they see me fall over, they understand sometimes you have to brush yourself off, laugh, and try again.
Exercise is also a good way to show children strength comes in all forms. Some people can lift heavy things or are really fast, while others are flexible. But we each have our own strengths and should concentrate on them. When my son was playing soccer, aggression didn’t come easy to him. Even though he was faster than other players, he would let the ball pass him by if it came near him. So before every game, to boost his confidence, we would remind him that speed was his strength. Even if other kids were bigger or had been playing longer, he could still keep up, take that ball and run with it. It worked about 30% of the time. But I hope we conveyed to him that everyone has their own unique strength and contribution to a team.
3.) Emotional Well Being
For me, exercise has its biggest impact on my emotional well-being. One day, my son was pretty grumpy and when I asked him why he said: “I think I need some exercise.” He’s obviously heard that or something like it before. I think it’s good for our children to understand the concept of an “outlet”, knowing that if they aren’t feeling right, there’s something they can do about it. My older son is all about nature, and I can tell when he needs to get out for some fresh air. So we will go out and I will jog next to him as he rides his bike. Sometimes we talk or race, and sometimes we say nothing. I let him lead the conversation. One thing is for sure: we are both refreshed when we get back home.
Our children can also see us building healthy relationships through exercise. In fact, I think the people I have run or worked out with connect on a different level than any other. I think of a good running partner as a “sole mate” (yes, pun intended). She will push you, encourage you, and comfort you, and will know exactly when to do it. We are setting good examples when we demonstrate how to encourage another person to reach their goal.
It’s also good for kids to see parents making friends based on similar interests, not necessarily similar backgrounds. I recently joined a couple of local running groups and even though we may be of different levels, paces, and ages, we are all there to support one another. Sure, there is some healthy competition going on. But in the end, the race is only with yourself. To me, that’s one of life’s most important lessons.
4.) Body Image
Body image is a concept that poses the greatest concern to parents. There is enough social media out there showing our children what healthy, fit, strong, athletic, beautiful, and tough look like. Exercise give us a chance to show our children what WE think those qualities look like, and an athlete can take many forms. We have the opportunity to show them our bodies are things that need to be taken care of with proper nutrition and movement, not objects that only need to look good. We do this by talking to them about WHY we are exercising and eating better. Is it only so we can wear that bikini? Are we constantly obsessing over what we see in the mirror? Or are we more concerned about the new things our body can do or how much better we feel when we eat right?
Nutrition Expert Joy Bauer sums it up nicely with something all of us need to understand: “Don’t waste time feeling bad about what you are NOT. Life is way too short and exciting. Focus on your assets and uniqueness, while eating healthy and exercising regularly. I promise, everything will fall into place. Literally.”
There are many ways we can teach our kids these important life lessons. Exercise is just another avenue to do so, as long we take the time to talk them through it. First, we have to believe in these principles ourselves. Then, if we can teach our sons and daughters to embrace these aspects of fitness, hopefully, they’ll develop a positive attitude towards a healthy lifestyle and image of their own strengths and uniqueness.
Thanks for reading,
Michele Phillips, A Pace of Balance
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