• Bowie Matteson

Kids, Movement and "Body Positivity": A long-term approach to healthy lifestyle choices for kids

What do you think of when you hear the term "body-positive"? Body positivity has become a hot topic in the realms of social media influencers, fitness motivators and major clothing brands. The movement largely focuses either on unconditional body acceptance ("my body is just right all the time"") or as an approach to physical self-improvement (accept your flaws). And while the marketing is largely directed towards women, I believe the concept of body positivity has enormous potential for improving the delivery of fitness and health concepts to children.

In my first post I briefly alluded to the potential physical fitness has on kids' approach to body positivity. I warned against the immediate association between fitness and aesthetically pleasing physiques for fear of putting all the value on appearance. It's power in improving children's fitness begins in establishing a deeper relationship between the child and their body.

Kids need to know that their mind NEEDS their body. Everyone knows the term "sound mind, sound body". But few acknowledge that it works both ways. An unhappy body leads to an unhappy mind. Body positivity in the naturally ego-centric child, then, is a result of recognizing their body's role in their mental health and well-being.

This is a tall task with a growing child. Kid's have so many new things to experience and process, and have yet to develop the real mental capabilities to handle everything efficiently. For them, their body is taken for granted. It is brand new and running on all cylinders. Kids should learn to see the "cause and effect" built into each of their nutritional and activity-based decisions in an emotional and cognitive context.

There needs to be less space between the mind and the house that it lives in. The sweet, salty, irresistible goodness of simple sugars and processed carbohydrates has become separated from the ensuing hyperactivity, lack of focus and cognitive dysfunctions. Likewise, the feeling of general well-being and proper development has lost its association with a balanced diet rich in nourishing vitamins and minerals. This separation is what leads to kids foregoing their physical nature entirely and fixating solely on the instant feedback from tasty food. Similarly for exercise, feeling tired, out of breath and sweaty after a workout needs to be seen in the context of building my body up to be healthier and stronger, not just being hot, sweaty and uncomfortable.

Kids need to know that their mind NEEDS their body.

Thinking long-term, establishing positive associations with the work that goes into taking care of your body is paramount. Whether a board game or freeze tag, the aim is to develop cognitively and/or physically. Fitness needs to be fun, engaging, and goal-oriented. It should hold their attention, get a simple, easily understood message across and give them the opportunity to practice it in real time. Introducing goals, checkpoints and awards are the strokes of competitive spirit that gets kids to buy into the idea of continually improving.

There are all too many social factors working against children today as well. Kids can develop body image problems as early as 3 years old. Advertising, parental influence and friendships are all sources of judgment stressing kids to avoid becoming "fat" or to fit a certain look or image. These aesthetic-focused criticisms can test a child's confidence and dedication to their health. However, the earlier a child understands the value of physical fitness and begins to put it into practice, the sooner they develop the positive attributes associated with training and the more health-focused their social circle becomes.

So for all the teachers, parents and coaches working with kids, continue to emphasize the value of a healthy body. Work to bridge the gap in identifying the empty calories and sugar-laden juices our kids continue to eat and drink and recognizing the resulting cognitive deficits and lack of physicality. Your voice and direction is what solidifies their foundation for long-term health.

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