10 Sep How to Create a Healthy Body Image in your Child
Start Them Young
Raising children is hard. Raising children with a healthy body image is even harder. Luckily, there are concrete steps you can take to have your child grow up with a healthy sense of self and body image which will take him/her far in life.
How many times have parents said, “I want my child to be happy with his/her body when he/she is older,” and yet time and time again, the same struggles appear as children mature into tweens and then teens, struggling to fit in and be comfortable in their changing bodies. This is natural and expected, as it is a part of development. However, there is a way to prime our kids to veer towards a healthier body image and self-esteem as they encounter these changes, which will likely make the transition into adolescence and adulthood easier.
Modeling a Healthy Body Image
- Be conscious of what you say in front of your kids and how you talk about your body. It is human to feel self-conscious at times and be aware of our bodies, and sometimes we can feel more sensitive when we notice our bodies changing (such as in pregnancy, or in times of stress). However, a changing body is NORMAL. Our bodies are dynamic and will always be changing; it is part of life. Model this awareness for your children.
- Practice talking positively about your body in the mirror and complimenting yourself. This is a great way to show kids that you love your body and are grateful for what it has provided you. Children are sponges: They absorb the environment around them, and notice things we aren’t aware they are picking up on. Make sure to acknowledge things you are grateful for when you talk about your body (e.g., eyes that give you sight, arms that help you lift things, legs that help you walk).
- Avoid talking negatively about your body or examining it in a negative or critical way. Even if you aren’t feeling the best at the moment or are having a bad day, model for your kids that you love your body no matter its status.
Addressing Inaccuracies in the Media
Don’t be afraid to have conversations with your child about what they see represented in the media. Discuss the bodies that they see portrayed. Ask whether they feel they are inclusive of a full array of body types. If not, why aren’t they? Share information about how photos are edited to get rid of “real” body changes such as pimples, fat, and stretch marks. Ask your child why the media feels the need to “hide” real bodies and why acknowledging different body shapes, sizes, and marks is important and inclusive.
Be Careful What You Praise
- Ensure that your child is receiving praise and acknowledgement for accomplishments, character qualities, and kindness.
- Avoid praising them based solely on looks, especially if their body shape looks “thinner” or “slimmer.” If kids receive praise primarily based upon how they look or their weight/shape, they will think this is what their parent values and that maintaining this is essential to having their parent be proud of them.
- Focus on overall beauty if they are praised for their looks. Make sure to focus on things like happiness, being kind, and overall values that make them a great child.
Instill Intrinsic Value and Define Beauty
Acknowledge society’s unfair and unrealistic standards of beauty. Remind your child that the idea of what defines beauty has been changing for centuries. Ask your child what they find beautiful. Help them define beauty in a way that is constructive towards building a healthy body image. Help them understand that there is beauty in everything and that every person has worth and value simply because they exist.
Seek Body Image Support When Needed
If you feel your body image or self-esteem needs improvement, don’t be afraid to seek help. At North Shore Family Services, we support clients in identifying and achieving their goals. Self-esteem can fluctuate and change – much like our bodies. And it is important to address a lack of or decrease in self-esteem when you notice it. Therapy can be a great way to identify the source of the change and offer practical tools to improve and take care of your body image. Take the time to listen to what your body needs and remember to be kind. Practice what you preach to your child.
North Shore Family Services is a team of skilled and approachable therapists that help parents, children, teens, adults, and couples reduce anxiety and stress, learn effective problem-solving techniques, and manage emotions and behaviors that inhibit personal, school, family, and relationship success. We make therapy a productive, engaging and relaxing place for everyone to work hard and make the improvements they desire. To find the right-fit therapist for you and your family, visit our clinician’s page.