How to Help Your Child Develop Positive Body Image
Parenting today is complex. Our children are faced with a host of challenges that are led by dieting culture. The mainstream media is introducing harmful messages about health and body size to our children at alarming rates. Combined with widespread access to technology and the Internet, our children are more likely to pick up damaging ideas about themselves and their bodies.
How is this affecting our children today? Sadly, eating disorders are becoming more prevalent among children and adolescents, with children as young as 7 being diagnosed with these deadly illnesses. Research has found that poor body image among adolescents is linked to other health issues, such as low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, restrictive dieting and compulsive overeating.
Understanding the potential impact of a dieting culture on our children can be frightening. The good news is as mothers, we have the capacity to instill positive messages in our children and can help them build a strong foundation from which to grow a healthy relationship with food and their body.
Here are some ways you can help your child develop a positive body image:
1. Examine your own body image issues
Maternal body image has a strong impact on how children will feel about their own bodies. Kids easily absorb body image messages from their surroundings, so take the time to check in with yourself. Do you describe your body negatively in front of your children? Are you frequently dieting or talking about weight around your kids? While unintentional, these behaviors can negatively influence how your child feels about their body.
2. Model Body Kindness
In a culture that defines success by productivity, true wellness gets pushed to the backburner. Self-care is often neglected and the meaning of health is skewed to be punishing workouts and restrictive diets. When we make choices to treat ourselves with compassion rather than shame, we are modeling a sense of well-being that is achieved by self-love, care and connection. Living out kindness to yourself and your body can reinforce the truth that your children are deserving of this as well.
3. Highlight who they are, aside from their appearance
Our society is hyperfocused on appearance, and this can communicate a message that worth is related to looks only. Build up the aspects of your child that are not strictly related to their appearance, such as their interests, skills and/or talents. This will, in turn, support a stronger self-esteem, which can help protect a child from poor body image.
4. Celebrate body diversity
The body type that is portrayed by the mainstream media is one that is unattainable and unrealistic for the majority of people. Take the time to share with your child that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. This can help a child learn to embrace their own uniqueness with confidence as well as celebrate the diversity of body sizes.
5. Focus on Health, Not Weight
Health has been skewed to mean a number on scale, but in reality, health cannot be measured in pounds or inches. Healthy habits are established from a place of kindness and love and the desire to thrive in every aspect of your life: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Keeping this perspective in mind will naturally help guide you in making decisions that support your overall well-being. Demonstrating this powerful message to your children will also help them grow confidently in who they are and allow them to thrive.
In many ways, being able to support a positive body image in your child begins with you. We all desire the very best for our children, especially as they grow up in a world that may harshly judge them for their appearance or body size. By embracing and modeling body kindness, you can make all the difference in how your child sees themselves.
How do you hope to build positive body image in your child?