Imagine you meet a really sweet kid who had had some rough experiences in life. No one has really taken the time to care about him in his whole life, and now he’s in the custody of the government. Circumstances allow you to take him in and adopt him.
He’s heavy-set and has been teased and bullied about his weight, both in the school yard and in his family of origin. His body language just screams out how ashamed he is of the way he looks.
You know he’s been fed hot dogs, mac and cheese, and sugary cereal for his whole life. He’s listless and you know he’d feel better if he was in better shape.
Do you force him to go run ten miles?
Nope. You are patient. He’s had a lot of hard knocks already.
You think of ways to share time with him while being active. You start with a few walks, maybe you go to the pond to check out the wildlife. You don’t speed-walk, you don’t keep dragging him further and further and making him suffer. You want to give him reasons to feel good about himself.
You don’t completely change his diet overnight. It’s not all spinach and couscous and rye bread and green smoothies. The kid needs a sense of comfort, of being at home. Life has been a challenge for him already, and change is stress. You want to set him up for success.
You start small, you buy sausages with real ingredients. Maybe you manage to mix in some gluten-free pasta, or do more rice. You buy the fruits he’ll eat readily. Home-fry him some potatoes and let him have the ketchup. You gradually have less sugary foods, more natural ingredients.
You cook together, you teach him how to read labels and make decisions. You don’t judge, you just educate. You set the example, but you accept him for who he is.
You provide him with a consistent schedule so that his body gets used to sleeping within the same window of time every day. If he has a hard time falling asleep and it’s tough for him to get up in the morning, you do what you can to accommodate. No sudden changes.
You make him feel accepted, you want him to feel he is okay, he is lovable. You want him to know that he deserves love and respect no matter what he is or says or does.
You gradually start going for longer walks, or maybe you find he enjoys kicking the soccer ball around. After six months, he’s still chubby but his little body doesn’t seem to be struggling and his energy is better. You guys try out new activities, and if you don’t enjoy them you don’t do them. Because life is short.
You go to festivals and museums (more walking!), you read together. Gradually there is just less and less time in your schedule for the TV shows he used to watch six hours per day after school and 16 hours per day on weekends.
You set him up for success. You were patient and accepting of him every step of the way.
Wouldn’t you do the same for yourself?
It’s time to parent your own inner child the way you would parent this sweet kid. Because there’s a sweet kid in you.
Maybe your little child has been beaten down or embittered by life. Maybe no one taught you how to take care of your body. Maybe no one said encouraging things to you, maybe they weren’t patient and you felt bad about yourself.
Now you are the parent. Those grown-ups are gone, and now you’re the grown up. You have to be nice to the inner child, now.
It’s time for you to encourage him or her. You can do this through mantras, affirmations, leaving yourself notes. Look in the mirror and say “you’re awesome!”
Be patient with yourself.