Society has an image-driven culture that focuses on unrealistic standards of beauty for people of all genders, ages, and ethnicities. These standards not only have a negative impact on adults but are impacting children with alarming consequences.
Eating disorders among children have increased significantly in the past 20 years. While the greatest prevalence is among adolescents ages 13 to 18, children as young as 5 years old are dieting. More than ever, it’s important to teach children how to value healthy eating and stay active while also loving their bodies.
Here are some ways that you can teach your children to have a positive body image and develop healthy habits for life:
Children tend to mimic the behaviors and actions of the adults around them. If children hear adults speak negatively about their own bodies, this may influence how they see themselves.
To combat this, work at being the role model your children need to see. State positive things about yourself and acknowledge that your imperfections are fine. Talk with your children about body diversity and why many media images are unrealistic. If you notice that your children are struggling with body image, be that understanding person they can speak to.
Instead of focusing on exercise as a way to lose weight or maintain a certain body shape, have your children consider the other ways that being active can be a positive contribution to their lives. For example, physical activity helps your body reach its full potential, improves mood, acts as a social activity or artistic expression, and can be a lot of fun!
Try exposing your children to different ways of being active and engage their curiosities. They may be interested in sports like soccer or basketball, or find a passion for yoga, roller skating, or even Quidditch! If your children are concerned that they can’t pursue an activity because of their size, show them how professional athletes come in different sizes and shapes.
Moving away from the binary of “good” or “bad” foods is an important tool in improving your children’s relationship with food. These labels create anxiety around food and may lead to consequences including food restriction and feeling like a bad person because they’ve eaten a “bad” food.
Promote healthy eating by emphasizing how the nutrients in foods help people become strong and healthy. Instead of focusing on calories, explain how the vitamins in an orange help their gums, or how nuts are good for their brain. And if your child wants to have a cookie or chips, there’s no need to shame their food choices. Allow children to make some choices about the foods they eat and cultivate an environment where nutritious foods are available and appealing.
Teaching your children to think positively about themselves can help develop a positive self-image that doesn’t focus entirely on appearance. Practice stating what positive attributes they have and what they are capable of doing or becoming.
What are some things that your children like about their bodies? Do they like their smile, or how their body helps them climb up a tree? Don’t forget your children’s non-physical attributes — are they kind, funny, smart or talented at something? A regular practice of saying affirmations can reduce negative self-talk and build your children’s confidence.
Teaching your children body positivity and healthy habits around food and physical activity can have a lasting impact on their self-esteem, self-perception and how they interact with an image-driven culture.