Body image is how we feel about our bodies. Whatever their size or weight, children can develop either a positive or negative view of their bodies. And, body image concerns can begin as early as preschool. Therefore, parents and other adult role models need to promote a positive body image for children of all ages.
Why? Young people with a positive image of themselves feel more comfortable and confident in their ability to succeed. They don't obsess about calories, food or weight. And, they have the energy they need to enjoy physical activity.
In contrast, kids with a negative body image feel more self-conscious, anxious and isolated. They are at greater risk for excessive weight gain and for eating disorders. Give your child the gift of positive body image and help prevent these problems — take the following five steps.
Step One: Check Your Own Body Image Issues
How parents feel about their bodies has a powerful influence on kids. Take time to think about ways you might be telling your children about your body image. If you talk about your huge thighs, your latest weight loss diet or your punishing workouts, your kids will pick up on these negative messages. They will begin to worry about the size of their thighs and think they should be dieting.
Step Two: Focus on Health, Not Weight
For your kid's sake (and your own sanity), shift your focus from weight to health. Stop obsessing about numbers on the scale. Instead, concentrate on delicious foods and fun physical activities. Most kids don't need to work out — they need to play with family and friends. Children shouldn't be counting calories or restricting their intake. They should be enjoying regular meals and learning how to make smart, tasty snack choices.
Nutrition and fitness are great goals because they give us energy to do all the things that we want to do. Whatever our age or size, we feel better when we take care of our bodies. Teach your kids about how to get the energy they need to take care of themselves and live an active life.
Step Three: Find Physical Activities That Fit
Feeling fit, strong and capable is one aspect of positive body image. All children need regular physical activity they enjoy. Some kids are natural athletes — they love all sports. Other kids do better at individual activities, such as walking or riding a bike. Some may find their niche in yoga, karate or a hip-hop dance class. It doesn't matter what kids do for physical fitness. It just matters that they do something.
Step Four: Watch Out for Bullies
Weight-related teasing is a major basis for bullying. Encourage your child’s school to address the issue. Ask them to support nutrition and physical education that promotes health for kids of every size. If your child is bullied about weight or for any other reason, act now. Discus your concerns with the school counselor or administrator.
Step Five: Myth-Busting the "Perfect Body"
Help your child become a savvy media critic by talking about bodies on television, in magazines and on the internet. Chat with them about the pictures of models they see in print and online ads. Explain that many of these images are retouched or changed so the bodies appear "perfect."
To help them feel good about their bodies, “high five” your kids by taking these important steps!