Promoting positive body image in children
Body awareness in children often starts before we as parents are fully prepared for it. This is a normal developmental stage that both boys and girls go through. Unfortunately for some it many lead to negative thoughts and questions.
Armed with the right information and research we can help our children accept and even be proud of the bodies they have no matter how different they might be from main stream media images and their peer groups. Here are a few ideas of ways to promote positive body image in children.
When talking to your children about themselves, focus on the whole picture. Yes, you are beautiful. But you are also clever and kind and really good making friends. Sometimes it needs reinforcing that we are the sum of many parts and our physical appearance is only a small part of that.
Be aware of how you talk about yourself, even when you think that your children aren’t listening. Many of us are guilty of having conversations within earshot of our ‘otherwise occupied’ children. These little sponges easy absorb the subtext of our dieting conversations which is often feelings of dislike towards our own bodies.
Also on the subject of watching our words, it past time to ditch any loving nicknames from their babyhood that might make reference to their appearance. Chunky monkey is a cute nickname when they’re little but a less appearance focussed nick name might be in order as they get older.
Strength over beauty and health over perfection is a good message to lead with. Think about all of the things that our bodies can achieve that aren’t related to how we look but are in fact because we are healthy and strong. For example: How amazing it is that our bodies heal when we’re hurt. How fast can you run because of your strong legs? Isn’t it amazing how your body turns food into fuel that keeps us moving and alert? How our bodies have changed with evolution to adapt to our environment. There are a lot of amazing things about our bodies that we may forget to appreciate, and really thinking about them is a good exercise for young minds.
Promote kindness towards others. If your version of humour is picking out other people’s physical flaws, its time to stop. Children will assume this is the way others speak about them. Speak kindly of others in front of children and use the opportunity to reinforce the all the really good character traits you love in others not just their physical appearance.
Empathise with and acknowledge your child’s concerns about themselves. Feelings and worries are real and need to be explored and resolved not just quietened. If you feel that your child’s concerns are stronger than they ought to be or are crossing the line into mental health worries then it is time to seek help, start with contacting your GP and they can signpost your child to the relevant support.