“Little pitchers have big ears” may be an old-fashioned folk saying, but the message is still true today: Our kids hear everything we say and usually internalize it. That fact has been top of mind for actor and entrepreneur Jessica Alba as she polices what she says about her body in front of her three kids, Honor, 12, Haven, 9, and Hayes, 3 (with hubby Cash Warren).
“The lens that I look through is, I remember how my mom spoke about her body, then informed the way I was going to talk to myself about my body,” the Honest Company founder told Romper in a video interview. “And even when my mom said, ‘You’re beautiful,’ and, ‘It doesn’t matter what other people think,’ it didn’t matter. I took on her baggage.”
Because of her experience with her own mom’s self-talk, Alba has made it a point to watch her mouth around her children. “I make a very concerted effort not to talk poorly about my body in front of my kids,” continued Alba, whose daughters Honor and Haven occasionally help their mom showcase her organic body care products. “Even when I’m like, man, my stretch marks or the loose skin or the cellulite, or whatever it is, I just talk about, like, ‘Do you feel good? Do you feel comfortable? Do you feel healthy?'”
Teaching kids body positivity or body neutrality (a mindset in which individuals put less emphasis on their physical appearance) can help them develop a lifelong healthy appreciation of their bodies. By internalizing a more authentic body-neutral mindset, children can develop healthier perspectives toward their bodies, which in turn promotes both emotional and physical health, according to Shiri Macri, program and clinical director of the Women’s Center for Binge and Emotional Eating at Green Mountain in Vermont.
“Children focus on caring for their bodies in ways that feel good instead of punishing the body for being ‘wrong’ through restriction, deprivation, [overexercising], etc.,” Macri told SheKnows. “By honoring, accepting and having gratitude for their bodies from a young age, children learn to listen to their bodies’ signals, which in turn promotes whole health.”
Dr. Ann Kearney-Cooke, director of the Cincinnati Psychotherapy Institute, told SheKnows that she urges parents to “focus on helping your [child] develop all aspects of themselves — not just appearance” and when you do address your child’s body, focus on function and not form.
“Encourage your [child] through example to focus on body function and to develop gratitude for what each part of their body does for them,” she said.
The experts’ advice sounds very similar to the way Alba is raising her two daughters and one son, and a very smart way to encourage a lifetime of healthy attitudes and habits. Her toddler even exhibited some recent appreciation of his body’s function while shooting some hoops like his grandpa, former college basketball player Michael Warren.
“I think it’s important that you know that no matter what you say to your kids, and how you have that unconditional love as a parent, they’re going to view themselves the way you view yourself,” Alba told Romper. “It’s sort of like walk the walk vs. talk the talk.”
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