Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Book Review: The Body Image Survival Guide for Parents: Helping Toddlers, Tweens, and Teens Thrive

[Full disclosure: This is an unsolicited review of a book I personally purchased]
Today's is a guest post by my wonderful wife Stacey, who also happens to be an MSW who has dedicated her professional career to working with children, and who is now also part of our office's Family Reset program.
I have been working in the field of child and adolescent mental health for almost ten years as part of our local children's hospital's crisis intervention unit. During those same ten years I have been raising three little girls. As a clinician, I give advice to parents almost daily about child development, discipline, structure, healthy living, communication and self-esteem. As a parent, I have perseverated about all of them as they relate to my personal life and in particular my own parenting style: wondering if I am too strict or at times too lenient and if the consequences make sense; asking myself if my concerns are valid or over-reactive; questioning whether correcting my children’s oddities are more harmful than helpful. In essence, and like many parents that I meet, what I worry about most are my children’s self-esteem, and what kind of influence, good or bad, I am having on it.

The Body Image Survival Guide for Parents: Helping Toddlers, Tweens, and Teens Thrive by Marci Warhaft-Nadler is a relatively short and sweet, well-crafted book that offers direct answers to some very difficult questions that most of us will face throughout parenthood. Marci has spent much of her life struggling with her own disordered eating while giving advice to others on how to live healthy lives. She explains at the onset how her recovery impacted on her desire to help others through the “Fit vs Fiction” project, which is aimed at arming kids with the self-confidence they need to be who they want rather than who they think they are supposed to be.
Teaching others to change themselves in order to be accepted/not bullied is never a good idea. If our self-esteem was supposed to come from other people, it would be called “others-esteem” instead!
Chapter by chapter Marci provies guidelines that help us to address and challenge myths, stereotypes, fat-bias, negative self-talk, media and advertising (including cartoons, magazines and the internet), peer influence, intergenerational baggage, the role of schools, teachers and coaches, and difficult questions that will confront us from the mouths of our babes. The message throughout remains clear: healthy role-modeling is the key to influencing our children and improving their self-esteem. We are reminded that our children are always listening and watching, even when we think that they are not, and that if we want our children to be comfortable in their skin, then we need to show them how by first being comfortable in our own.

Useful tips with “Try This!” suggestions for family games and activities appear throughout the book along with real questions and solid answers that address self-esteem, bullying, body-image and more. These are presented again with a nice little Quick Reference guide at the back of the book that also includes Internet resources mentioned throughout the book and Eating Disorder warning signs. The final two pages of the book are possibly my favorite part. They are sample body image pledges. LOVE. THESE.

By shifting the discussion from “weight” and “diet” to “health”, Marci guides us to redefine our happiness, our value as human beings, and our self-worth in relation to who we are and what we do, not by how we look or what we weigh. The “focus should be on raising healthy kids, not necessarily skinny ones.”

While I did not see eye to eye with Marci on the importance of role-modeling by our schools as far as making food options there more healthful (she argues that this is not the solution, but rather teaching our children about healthy living is; I believe that both are essential, as Yoni often says, flooding can’t be managed through swimming lessons alone), I agree with her overall message that we need to arm our kids with information about the health benefits of nutritious food and active living rather than focusing on the impact of calories on weight.

I have been and will continue to recommend this book to many of my parent-clients of children with overweight/obesity as well as parents of children without overweight/obesity. It is a concise, well written, incredibly useful guide for all parents who have ever worried about their child’s self-esteem or body image, and for those parents who have struggled with these issues themselves.

(If you'd like to buy a copy for yourself, here's an Amazon Associates link.)