12 Mar Their Body, Their Choice
One of my practice members called me for a doctor’s note for her daughter. She’d twisted her ankle over the weekend and was hobbling and in pain. When she went to her PE class with a swollen ankle, the teacher insisted she needed a note from her doctor to sit out the class. Her mom knew it was a minor injury and didn’t need a trip to the ER so as a member of my family wellness practice she contacted me.
It was amazing to me that the “system” needed a doctor to confirm that she couldn’t walk when it was clear she couldn’t. This is taking the power away from her. It does not allow us to be the authority on our own bodies. Is this the message we want to give our kids: You don’t have control over your own body and don’t get make decisions about it? Really??!!!!!
Another example, also arising from the world of phys ed, is the situation where our daughters don’t feel up to participating in class because of menstrual cramps. While for some girls, their period is no big deal and doesn’t affect their daily life, some of our daughters (and us!) are truly set back by the intensity of what our body is going through. What’s the problem with letting someone advocate for her own body and sit out a few days? It’s not an illness, but some schools require a doctor’s note. That not only takes independence away but it medicalizes a normal and healthy aspect of human life.
How as parents do we develop self-awareness and self-advocacy in our kids?
We can do this by focusing on two simple things.
The first one is:
Helping our kids gain awareness of their unique constitution.
Begin with asking simple empowering questions:
- What would you like to eat for dinner?
- What bedtime makes you feel the best the next day?
- What temperature do you like in your bedroom?
- What foods give you energy or make you feel sluggish?
- Do you think that bagel gave you a tummy ache?
- Would a day off help your body reset?
- Do you need a break from practice today?
- Do you feel hungry/thirsty/tired/sad?
- Can you think of anything that happened to make you feel that way?
- Is your bed comfy to you?
- Do you need a snack before studying?
These simple questions help our kids check in and report what they are experiencing, not what we believe they are. Asking questions is the first step in growing a child connected to their own body. When they develop the habit of questioning and listening to their body for the answers, they’re teaching themselves body wisdom about who they are and what they need.
Acknowledge your child’s body is developing in its own way, too — because it will be different from their friends. Make difference normal. For example, getting taller is a process that is distinct to every kid and follows its timeline. Our kids are unique in all the world and I reinforce that all the time.
I say to my kids at home and in my practice:
“ We are just as different in the inside as the outside.”
The next step:
Empowering them to be response-able for tending to their body’s needs.
If you’ve ever found yourself saying to your kid, “I’m cold so you need to put on a sweater,” you’re applying the needs of your body on them. But just because you’re cold — or hungry, or sleepy, or achy — doesn’t mean your kid will be. The foods (or temperatures, etc.) that influence your moods aren’t going to be the same as theirs. It can be difficult to separate yourself from your kids this way, but it’s a vital step in the process of letting them have autonomy and encourage inner knowledge over their bodies.
Choosing clothes for themselves may seem like a minor thing, but it’s very empowering. Every mom has that day where people look at your kid and say with amusement, “Don’t they look cute!” And we answer, “He got dressed all by himself today!” Thus explaining why he has on shorts, the right shoe on the left foot, an unmatched flannel shirt and a too-small hat from the dressup bin. Definitely, throw a sweater in the backpack when your toddler insists on the leotard and tutu in January. Remember: Giving her power is important.
Sleep is another key issue in health (and in parent-child dynamics!). You know and I know that your crabby adolescent is probably burning the candle at both ends and a nap will do wonders for them, but unless they can determine their own sleep schedule, they’ll never understand how great a full night’s sleep feels. And though we all need sufficient sleep to stay healthy, one person may get by with two four-hour chunks of sleep while another will benefit most from 12 hours straight.
When kids take control of their own sleeping, they’re more likely to know what feels right to them and to get rest when they feel the need for it. (Even though that may mean they sleep from after school right through dinner, get up and graze and do their homework, and get back to bed after midnight.)
As they grow it’s important to give your child increasing power over the decisions around their bodies. It’s challenging for most parents to let their kids decide what they’re hungry for. You spend time carefully choosing and preparing a balanced, delicious meal, and your daughter only wants a bowl of ketchup and a spoon. (Cue: Bread and Jam for Frances book.) Letting go and allowing your child to eat one food for days on end may feel edgy but it shows them they can make decisions (and yes you can still sneak protein powder into the smoothie). And most kids, when you let them choose for themselves, will end up eating a balanced diet, even if they seem to be eating only one thing all the time. I trust their body’s innate intelligence to guide what they need to grow.
Their body, their choice.
Allowing kids to make these choices are small but important steps in teaching them they have power over their own bodies. Not only will they be able to make their own health decisions, but they develop the ability to say yes and no on wider issues.
When we let go of being the only person with the ability to make decisions about our kids’ bodies, we are cultivating the powerful place where our kids are their own best advocates. Lifelong self-advocacy is a skill most of us are not brought up with — imagine how you’d have moved through the world if you’d known all these things about yourself earlier in life.
We know that kids who are connected with their Self (constitution, body wisdom) make better choices. And this connection is one of the most powerful gifts we can give our kids.
P.S. Have a funny story about letting your child make their own choice? Share it in the comments below.