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Self Esteem: Building a Positive Body Image

February 11, 2014

By Lorena Villa Parkman

A teen looks at herself in the mirror.

How can you help your child or teen develop a positive body image, good self-esteem, and maintain a healthy lifestyle all at the same time? This is a challenging issue for all parents, but we are capable of helping boost a child’s self-confidence and help him or her keep it for life.

For many people, especially preteens and teenagers, body image is closely related to self-esteem. Since their bodies are changing, preteens and teenagers are usually more self-conscious and vulnerable to what others might think of them. Remember that as a parent you have more influence than you think in helping your child get through this confusing time of his or her life.

Here are five tips to help your child have a healthier body image:

  1. Be a role model and accept your own body. Remember that both young children and teens model the behavior they see and hear at home. This means he or she will probably also model your attitude toward your body. So if you're complaining about your belly fat, your frizzy hair or your bad skin, your child will follow and find similar flaws in his or her body. Also be mindful of how you talk about other people’s bodies.
  2. Encourage activities that make your child feel good. This will shift the focus to your child’s abilities rather than to his or her physical appearance. Exercise will help your child feel good about his or her body. Remind your child that this is about being fit—not necessarily thin—and about focusing on health rather than appearance.
  3. Help your child understand that bodies change and that there is no ideal body shape. Help your teen recognize that we all come in different shapes and sizes. Focus on how strong, agile, or healthy his or her body is and talk about all the things that it’s capable of doing. If you believe your child is over or underweight, check with his or her health provider instead of making assumptions.
  4. Praise your child. Children, as well as teens, need to hear you tell them how good they are at the things they like. Describe exactly what you liked about something that your child accomplished and use praise to highlight positive character traits and talents. Your child will soon focus more on his or her character and values than on his or her physical appearance, building a healthy self-image.
  5. Encourage your whole family to be healthy. If your child sees that the whole family is trying to have a better and healthier self-image, it will be easier for him or her to follow. You can make simple changes like avoiding fast food, buying or cooking nutritious meals and exercising together.

If a healthy lifestyle becomes part of your family practices, your child will model these good habits throughout his or her life and keep a positive self-image thanks to a wholesome approach.


How to Be Affectionate with Your Child

February 10, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

A mother hugs her son.

As a parent, there may come a time when you realize that however unlikely it seemed, you are just like your mother or father. If your parents were extremely affectionate, then there is good chance you are, too. However, if your parents or caregivers were not affectionate with you as a child, it may be difficult to show affection to your child.

I have worked with several young mothers who are scared to display love toward their children. Some are stressed, others lack confidence to attempt new bonding activities, and others find themselves lost. My goal with these parents is to guide them through the wonderful journey of parenting by coaching them through simple bonding activities that eventually strengthen their relationships with their children. I am glad to share these simple ideas with you.

Remember that your children love you no matter what. Their love is unconditional and they are naturally wired to bond. Try the following ideas and you may find yourself enjoying a bonding experience with your child.

  • Disconnect and Connect. Turn off your phone and/or electronics around you to be able to give your child your undivided attention. Make your child feel important and let him or her know that he or she is your priority. Begin doing this for ten minutes and work your time up to 30 minutes a day when time permits. Play and talk with your child and praise his or her efforts without corrections to make this a positive experience. Praise is a form of displaying affection. A simple “great job” or “you are beautiful” goes a long way.
  • Reading Date. Create a designated time in your routine and schedule to sit down and read together with your child. Make your special reading area cozy and comfortable. Sitting together can give you opportunities to hug your child and promote literacy.
  • Bathtime Fun. Use your bathtub as your indoor swimming pool. Have fun indoors even in cold weather. You can splash, play, and bond in the bathtub. You and your child are in small space cooperating together and having fun. You can share smiles and bond.
  • Walk and Talk. Taking walks will allow you and your child to exercise and initiate conversation about anything. Hold hands if your child is young and use opportunities to display your love toward him or her by kissing your child’s cheek, hand, or forehead.
  • Hugging Time. Make traditions to hug each other during different times of the day. Hug during your morning greeting, after breakfast, after a nap, and before bedtime. Encourage your child to initiate hugging during other times too. Never decline a hug from your child.

Do not stress or overthink when you bond with your child. Keep your child’s best interest in mind and have fun. You will do great!

"Try to see your child as a seed that came in a packet without a label. Your job is to provide the right environment and nutrients and to pull the weeds. You can’t decide what kind of flower you’ll get or in which season it will bloom." – Anonymous


The Importance of Fatherly Involvement

February 6, 2014

By Stephen J. West

A father and daughter play on the beach.

Since the birth of my son a little over two years ago, I have made it a priority to be as involved in my son’s upbringing as possible. While I have to admit it’s more fun to play with him than it is to change his diaper or get him to nap, I believe that it is important to be regularly involved in all aspects of his life.

While my desire to share parenting duties with my wife might have been unique in the past, more and more men are changing their attitudes toward parenting. In an interview with the Associated Press, Robert Loftus, a 34-year old father of two, said he quit a six-figure sales job to care for his children while his wife works full time. “We’re trying to rethink our priorities,” he said of men in the 21st Century, “and family seems to be the No. 1 priority whereas in the past maybe people were more focused on career.” While my career is still very important to me and I value the financial support I provide my family, like Loftus, my self-worth is not defined solely by my career, but also by the role I play in my son’s life.

But my commitment to fatherhood doesn’t just add to my personal happiness, it also benefits my son greatly. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, “The more involved dads are, the better the outcomes for their children.” Numerous studies show that children with involved fathers have many developmental advantages:

  • Children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, be confident to explore their surroundings, and, as they grow older, have better social connections.
  • Fathers who interact with infants and preschoolers in stimulating, playful activities help children learn how to regulate their feelings and behavior.
  • Children with involved, caring fathers have better educational outcomes.

From my experience, the best way to become more involved in your child’s life is to make it a part of your daily routine. One way to do this is to create a schedule with your partner for what days you will be in charge of activities such as meals, bath time, or reading stories. The key is that you are participating regularly. As with anything, practice pays off: the more you are involved, the more comfortable you will become in your role as a father, and the more you and your child will develop a fulfilling emotional connection with each other.

In addition to being a father of an energetic two year old, Stephen J. West is a professor, writer, art enthusiast, and collector of bonsai trees. You can follow him on Twitter here, where his opinions are his own.


Building Healthy Teen Relationships

February 5, 2014

By Nely Bergsma

Build healthy teen relationships

Building healthy teen relationships can be one of the more challenging responsibilities we as parents and mentors of teens have. The teen years are a period of great physical and emotional growth for children. Up until this period in their lives, most children have likely remained close to home, guided by their parents. As they enter and journey through the teen years they become more independent of their parents and rely more on themselves, their friends, and their peers. What can we as parents and mentors do to assure that our teenagers will build healthy relationships and make good choices?

Teens must learn communication, boundaries, trust, and respect for one’s self and for one another. We set the examples. If we do not communicate effectively, our teenagers may not turn to us with any problems they may encounter. They in turn may not be able to communicate in their personal relationships in a positive way—they may withhold their feelings or perhaps act out in anger. Have a conversation with your teenager; take time to listen to what he or she is saying. Offer guidance more than advice or opinions.

If we do not set boundaries, our teenagers may encounter difficulties in understanding the consequences of their actions in the relationship they have with others and make poor choices. Set curfews, assign household chores, and hold your teenager accountable for meeting his or her responsibilities. Reward your teen with praise and encouragement.

And lastly, if we as parents and mentors do not set examples of trust and respect, our teenager may be at risk of not trusting and respecting themselves or others, resulting in unhealthy relationships. Trust and respect your teenager in your words and actions.

While the teen years can be challenging, they can also be exciting and joyous. Both parent/mentor and child need to remain aware, stay balanced in their opinions and be conscious in their choices in order to build healthy teen relationships.


Overwhelmed? Seek Parental Help from Others

February 4, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

Parents talk in a support group.

As parents, we want to be and do the best every day for our children and family. Because of this, there might be times when we feel helpless. Parenting can be overwhelming, stressful, and chaotic.

Sometimes you need to seek help from others. It might be difficult to swallow your pride and admit you need assistance, but it’s okay. We all need help sometimes and it’s normal to ask for it. Here are a few places you can find it:

Support System. Always remember that as a parent, caregiver, and person, you need to have a support system in place. Family, friends, and neighbors are usually great support assets. Make contacting them easier by having their phone numbers available. Knowing and trusting these individuals is essential to facilitate the motivation to request their help. Foster open lines of communication with your support network.

Community Organizations. There are organizations available in your community that can offer support and help to parents. Accessing these services is usually just a phone call or website away, and most are confidential and voluntary. Here are some examples:

  • United Way is an organization that initiated a 10-year program designed to achieve three main goals: improve education, help people achieve financial stability, and promote healthy lives.
  • Your state’s Department of Human Services can help you and your family meet basic needs like food, housing, and health, among other needs.
  • Parents Helping Parents helps special needs families by providing information, resources, and referrals, including special interest groups specific to certain conditions and languages.
  • Talk to us! We have a forum where you can vent to other parents and ask advice.

I know that as a parent and/or caregiver, you are juggling many things at once and need encouragement and support. Know your limits and seek help before things get too overwhelming. Talk with someone to decrease your stress level. Have a family member babysit so you can relax. Attend a support group for assurance that there are many other parents who feel like you.

What do you do when parenting gets overwhelming? Do you have a favorite organization you contact? Help other parents by telling us in this forum.

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