Embracing Our Daughters: Supporting them as they enter adolescence
By Christie Caggiani
Truly some of the most humbling moments as a professional come from teachable moments as a mother. I recently had a conversation with a mom, as our nearly teen daughters were getting together for the day. She was clearly concerned about her child’s blossoming body, and shared that she had told her daughter she was going to buy her a gym membership. That alone gave me pause, however, when my daughter later recounted that they were encouraged to go for a walk to burn off some calories, it shifted me into anger. Fortunately, the girls said they went outside because it was a beautiful evening and they had a lot of fun walking, but I realized that no matter how much I try to teach body positive attitudes, the forces in this world are challenging those messages at every turn.
It is critical that as our adolescents’ bodies begin to change, we are a solid, reliable resource and support system for them. This is a time when they are uncertain about their physical self, how to act, and how to feel, so we as parents are key in letting them know these changes are normal and that they are exactly where they should be in their development. Our role is to help them connect with, listen to, and respond consistently to their body’s signals, whether their body is asking for food, sleep, activity, or a good cry. Our role is NOT to control how their bodies turn out or interfere with their changing process along the way.
One of my favorite books on this topic, Like Mother, Like Daughter by nutritionist Debra Waterhouse, is one I would highly recommend to any female. Not only does it help us understand what is happening in our daughter’s body, it gives us greater insight into how we can better equip our young women to avoid the traps of weight and food preoccupation. To quell your fears, and give you some direction, remember the following:
What Your Daughter’s Body Naturally Wants to Do (and what we can reinforce)
|Mold her body into an aesthetic ideal||Find a comfortable weight that is biologically and genetically right for her|
|Encourage dieting||Eat enough food to supply her body with nourishment and fuel|
|Condition her taste buds||Stimulate all of her taste buds and enjoy the taste of sugar starting in infancy, salt starting in toddler years, and fat starting in adolescence.|
|Feed her low-fat foods||Consume enough fat for brain development and physical growth|
|Feed her by the clock||Eat when her body tells her it’s time to eat|
|Enforce three balanced meals a day||Eat small, frequent meals and snacks throughout the day|
|Provide a full-course dinner||Eat as much as her body needs at dinner and have a snack at night if she’s hungry|
Here are some other pointers that may be helpful as you assist your pre-teens and teens in their journey:
- Just talk. Share your memories of puberty, and use it as an opportunity to open dialogue. Ask her if there’s anything she finds confusing, and encourage her to name her emotions.
- Arm her with resilience to handle insensitive comments from classmates, well-meaning relatives, and friends.
- Connect openly with other parents and ensure that they provide a similarly positive body attitude environment.
- Avoid making comments that tell her she will be okay once she grows taller, loses some weight, or changes her body in some way. She is exactly where she is supposed to be today.
- Focus on the internal qualities that make up her person – her creativity, compassion, or strength of character.
- Never, ever talk negatively about your own or anyone else’s body. Period.
- Enjoy food with your child. Let her see you eat, savor, and enjoy meals and snacks.
- Encourage movement as a way to connect with the body, unload some stress, and have some unstructured fun! Never encourage exercise as a way to change the body, burn calories or lose weight.
200 Ways to Raise a Girl’s Self-Esteem, by Will Glennon
Embody: Learning to Love your Unique Body, by Connie Sobczak
Like Mother, Like Daughter, by Debra Waterhouse, RD