Healthy and Happy

I think if you asked any parent, they would agree that they want their children to be happy and healthy. We all want our children to have the gift of health and to live long and happy lives. All of us are coming from different places when we make decisions in regards to healthy lifestyles and how we implement them in our families. We were all raised differently and it can often be interesting and challenging to parents who may have been raised with different values around what “health” looks like and its’ importance.

A lot of us are also very confused. Should we take on the French philosophy of feeding? Should we eliminate gluten? Should we eliminate all food with dyes? What amount of exercise do we really end and what kinds are best?  The questions can be limitless and so can the information that is out there.  There are many new diets being introduced by the week and constantly changing ideas of what parents should or should not feed children. Many children today lead very sedentary lives with video games and media being a top priority. Included in this media are the messages sent about what is attractive in our society and what our society as a whole values.  It unfortunately usually doesn’t take long for children to form an opinion of what they think their bodies are supposed to look like according  to the messages that they see and hear. One of the messages youth often key in on is that being extremely thin is the ideal.

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This is “The Becerra Bikers” a few years ago after a family ride.

 

Though maintaining a healthy weight can certainly  be a part of a healthy lifestyle, I have realized more and more that automatically equating health with weight and size can be misleading and even harmful. I think that most of us probably know at least one person who is very thin but doesn’t live a very healthy lifestyle. When we see a person who is overweight, we might also make assumptions about the lifestyle that person leads. I know that I can think of examples of several people in my life who although  they may be a little overweight, they are actually very active and really value eating a healthy diet. It simply is not fair to make assumptions that people who are thin are automatically healthy people and that on the flip side people who aren’t super model thin aren’t.

In my Healthy Sprouts class that I taught through the Healthy Youth Program, we talked to families a lot about how we are all unique and come in different shapes and sizes.  Instead of putting the majority of the focus on size, it is important to focus on health for everyone!  Teaching our children how to care for their bodies (and modeling how we care for ours), is a huge gift! Every family is unique and faces different challenges, and there is not one size fits all package for any family. Through my research as a former nutrition educator for the Healthy Youth Program and my experiences as a parent, I have a few tips that might be helpful as you try to figure out what “healthy” might look like in your own family.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be active for at least 60 minutes every day. Because motivation, temperament, and activity level varies between each child, we might sometimes have to think outside of the box on how to make this process fun for each child. One of my children is so far not very excited about doing team sports, but she loves to ride her bike places and is open to doing yoga classes. I really do believe that there is a form of exercise for everyone. Walking, dance parties, organized sports, biking and swimming are a few of the many options when it comes to types of exercise we can encourage. This is something that I am trying to do a better job of with my own family, but my kids have been very receptive when we exercise together as a family.
  • Really think about the messages that you send your children based off of how you talk about your own size and body. Are you constantly weighing yourself in front of your children? Do you sit and talk with a friend about dieting or criticize your own body in front of your children? Children are extremely smart and perceptive, and I have really been contemplating the messages I send to my children by my actions and the things I say. When you put yourself down in front of your children, you are putting down a person who means the very most to your child!
  • Do your research. As you are deciding the specifics on what is best for your family, remember that not all information or internet sites are created equal. Often times sites have ulterior motives as they are trying to push their products.
  • From the years I spent teaching parent/child baby classes, I can see how common it is in our culture to compare body shapes and sizes early on. Though it usually starts as an observation or in fun, parents are often comparing their children’s size to their peers. Grandparents might joke about or constantly bring attention to the fact that one grandchild is much larger than another, even as babies.  I once had a mom break down in class once when she recalled how her family referred to her as the “fat” sister. She said that they were constantly joking and criticizing her and pushing her to lose weight. In tears, she told us that she will never do these comparisons or put this kind of pressure on her own daughters.
  • Eat dinner together as a family whenever possible. Family meals are a time to not only share food but also to share about our days and to check in with each family member. I inherited my childhood family table, and every time I look at it, it reminds me of the many times my family gathered around that table. And to be able to do the same thing with my family feels very special!
  • Be mindful about how much and which kinds of media you allow enter your home. Though we won’t be able to always shelter our children from everything, we can do our part to have a healthy relationship with media. When we do see commercials or ads, we can talk about the fact that even these pictures aren’t usually accurate pictures of what the person really looks like. They are often photoshopping and changing models to fit the societal ideal even more. There is room to have many meaningful conversations about health and body image.
  • Be more gentle with yourself. It is extremely important to me that my children have a healthy self-image, yet I can be so hard on myself when I haven’t been exercising as much as I would like. It can also sometimes still be hard to accept the fact that my body, that has grown and birthed 3 children,might not quite go back to the way I would like it to, even when I am exercising and eating well. It truly is a miracle that my body was able to grow these 3  children that are now in my care each day. I should be celebrating the beauty of this as I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you approach health and body image in your own families. How are your ideas influenced by the way you were raised? What fun tips to you have for other families based off of what has worked well for you? I wish you and yours health during this new school year and in the years to come!

 

 

 

A New Rhythm

It happened again. Another summer flew by way faster than it should have. There are only a couple of days left to cram in as much fun as possible. This of course is being balanced with the rush to buy any last minute school necessities and trying to get back into  school year routines. Fall brings with it a new and exciting feel and a new family rhythm. Since my first child started school a few years ago, I find myself filled with mixed emotions at the start of a new school year. It seems to be very common for siblings to fight more at the end of the summer (mine included), which leaves many parents excited for more structure. After being able to spend more time with my children during the summer, I also feel sad that my children will start a routine that involves so much time away from home. It makes me realize how important it is to be supportive of and engaged with the teachers who will spend so much time with our precious children.

Gabe on his first day of kindergarten last year.

Gabe on his first day of kindergarten last year.

My children are also starting a new school this year, which brings with it another set of to-do’s and hopes. I hope my children have a smooth transition and feel happy at their new school. As you prepare for a new school year, take a few minutes to check out this helpful post, “Preparing Your Child for the New School Year.” I was reminded of some simple things I can do as a parent to help start the school year off right. Happy new school year everyone. I have a feeling it’s going to be a great one!

The 4 Questions

There is no perfect way to parent. There is no perfect parenting book or advice that will solve all of our parenting dilemmas. Through my years of teaching parenting classes, I have heard pleas from tired new parents who want the magic trick to get their babies to sleep through the night. If only parenting were that easy. If only someone really could just give us an easy formula to follow that would consistently work every single time we needed it.  But every parent who has had multiple children knows that each child comes to this world with a distinct personality and a parenting technique that worked great for child #1 may or may not work for child #2. Every parent also comes with his/her own values and history that plays a large role in how he/she will choose to parent.

Each child is unique, and it sure didn't take us long to know that this little cutie had a lot of personality.

Each child is unique, and it sure didn’t take us long to know that this little cutie had a lot of personality.

Though I have never heard any perfect advice, I certainly have heard or read tips or words of encouragement at the exact moment when I needed to hear them. We all need more tools in our parenting tool belt sometimes, so it is always refreshing when we hear a new idea to try as a parent that seems to be a good fit for our children and family.

A couple of years ago, I was attending a great Parenting Education training in Eugene at “Parenting Now”, and I learned a simple parenting concept that has made a big difference in my own family and how I think about discipline. I think that every parent struggles with discipline and how to best teach our children when it seems like whatever we try isn’t working. This simple concept may not seem profound, but it has popped into my mind many times when I was feeling totally frustrated and helped save the day.

Think of the last time your child behaved in a way that was really difficult for you to handle and how you struggled to know how to deal with the behavior. This can be anything as simple as a struggle to get a child to brush her teeth to a child pushing his peers as a means to get what he wants. The scenarios are endless. As you go through the situation consider the following about your child:

1)Developmental Age-Is it developmentally normal for a 10 month old to throw food off of his high chair while eating? Yes (though still frustrating at times). Is it developmentally typical for a 7 year old to throw food when they don’t like what’s for dinner? No. Keeping in mind where your child is developmentally can be so helpful and reassuring that though what our child is doing is difficult, it is often normal for her age.

2)Temperamental Tendencies-Each child truly is so unique, so when we try to really understand our child’s unique personality and where he/she is coming from, it can help to know that children often times aren’t doing things to deliberately make our lives difficult, even though it feels that way at times. It can be really challenging at times to parent a child with a very different temperament than your own, and it can also be really difficult at times to parent a child with a similar temperament (I have both). So yes, parenting can just be challenging at times, no matter what your child’s temperament :).

3)Parent’s Values-Because every parent’s values and style of parenting can be so different, what may be a problem for one parent wouldn’t even phase another. For example, I am pretty relaxed about my children getting dirty,even at the cost of ruining play clothes at times, while some parents have a much harder time with this.

When you have considered the previous background questions, take your time to walk yourself through the following 4 questions:

  • What do I want my child to learn?
  • Is what I’m doing teaching that?
  • Are there any negative results from it?
  • If so, what can I do differently?

These questions are simple, but they truly have changed the way I view discipline. I now view discipline much more as an opportunity to teach my children something that they need to know rather than a means of punishment. When I scolded my children for the 10th time for being too loud in the library, it suddenly struck me that I had never taken the time to teach them the expectations for how we do behave in the library. How would they know if I never really took the time to explain to them the differences between how loud and rambunctious we can be in different settings? When my youngest child hit other children as a toddler, it was important for me to not only tell her to stop the behavior but to also explain how the other child felt and to even model comforting the other child to help them feel better. I might even have to let them know that play isn’t fun when kids are getting hurt and not feeling safe, so we would need to leave if this continued. Would this incident be the last time that my toddler ever hit? No. Hitting can be a normal behavior for toddlers, but I could feel good that I was on my way to teaching my child what she needs to know to be successful in interacting with others.

Our children are looking to us to teach them how to navigate this world, and I am grateful that I am here for them. Am I always perfect at remembering to ask myself the 4 questions? No, sometimes it is too late when I remember. I have already lost my patience or handled a situation in a way I am not proud of. But each day is a gift to try to do a little better. After all, we aren’t trying to teach our children to be perfect but instead, that we can ask for help and still be kind human beings even when we make mistakes sometimes.