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Inspiring a Healthy Mindset Toward Movement

As a parent or caregiver, you help shape your family’s attitude toward physical activity. A good way to showcase the many benefits of physical activity is to get yourself moving too.

With a little imagination, and plenty of enthusiasm, you’ll make getting active a fun, routine part of family life. 

Below are some tips for promoting positive body image and when to get more support.

Tips for inspiring a healthy attitude toward physical activity:

  • Focus on fun, health, and family enjoyment. Encourage physical activity as part of your family’s healthy lifestyle. Focus on the positive benefits everyone will enjoy: increased energy, improved sleep, and better performance.
  • Reinforce what bodies can do, not how they look. Shift attention away from managing weight or body size to point out how fast, strong, and flexible bodies are as you become more physically active. Watch your child’s confidence and self-esteem grow as they feel good about what their bodies can do, rather than how they look. Remind them that fitness and strength come in many shapes and sizes.
  • Keep your mindset around movement positive. Children are always listening. If you find yourself saying, “I’m so tired— exercising is just too much work,” or “I’ll have to spend hours at the gym to work off that dessert,” you may unintentionally promote negative thinking around physical activity. Instead put a positive spin on it. Share how much better and focused you feel after a walk. Shift the mindset from physical activity being something you have to do, to something you choose to do.
  • Share feelings of reward and accomplishment out loud. Take every opportunity to reinforce the good in your experience of moving with your child. For example, when you get home after a run or brisk walk together, say, “Wow! That was fun! That last stretch was hard, but I’m so proud we did our best and finished. How do you feel about it?
  • Build body confidence. Feeling fit, strong and capable helps build a positive body image. It also makes trying out new physical activities more fun. Help your child recognize that building endurance and strength not only make activities they like more enjoyable, but they feel better in their bodies, not just because of how they look but because of how being more fit makes them feel.
  • Avoid using exercise as punishment. Physical activity should be something your child gets excited about, not something they dread. Sometimes coaches, teachers, parents and other adults may reinforce negatives ideas about physical activity without even realizing it. Expressing ideas like “no pain, no gain,” or that high intensity is more important than having fun, or that a particular slim size is a physical ideal, can leave a lasting impression. Talk with your child about their experiences around a physical activity. Don’t be afraid to reach out to coaches or teachers to share any concerns.

For more tips on building up a healthy body image among family, read more about fostering a healthy relationship with food in our Eating Well section

A negative body image: When to get more support

Regular physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Active children and youth may also enjoy a more positive body image too. Yet sometimes an intense focus on extreme exercise can become a problem.

Sometimes, excessive or compulsive exercise can be a symptom of an eating disorder, or may be related to OCD or bipolar disorder.

Young athletes may also be pressured to push themselves too far, leading them to quit sports, develop eating disorders, or struggle with low self-esteem.

Learn to recognize some of the early warning signs of an unhealthy body image. Pay close attention to your child’s attitude and behaviour.

Ask yourself: 

  • Are they engaging in a physical activity not because they want to, but because they feel they have to?
  • Are they permitting themselves the time and space to rest when they’re tired?
  • Are they frequently commenting on their body size or the body shape and appearance of others?
  • Are they too focused on perfection or having the ideal body size, suggesting a deeper struggle with self-esteem?  

If you think that your child is exercising too much (or too little), talk to your doctor.

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