5 Steps to Fostering Positive Body Image in Your Children
by Lindsay Cote
For many years now, our media has been saturated with images of “ideal” bodies. Children are particularly susceptible to the influence of the media, as well as their environment and those around them.
As your child’s parent, you have a unique power to shape your child’s values and self-image. While you are not solely responsible for how your child ultimately views his or her body, following the tips below may be helpful in fostering positive self-image:
1. Avoid commenting on your child’s appearance. Children learn to value those qualities in themselves that draw positive attention. A child who is frequently told how clever she is learns that it is important to be smart and will strive to be smart or to achieve academically. A little girl who is constantly complimented on her appearance will learn to value that about herself. Think about your values as a parent and what you want your child to value in him or herself, then praise your child when he or she behaves consistently with that value. For example, “Sally, I am so proud of you for sharing your toy with your brother. That was a very kind thing to do.” Praising the behaviour rather than the child helps the child to develop a more stable sense of self-worth, rather than a self-esteem dependent on possessing a particular quality (such as beauty or cleverness).
2. Model positive body image. That is, avoid making comments about your own or others’ bodies. Even positive comments send the message that it is important to have a particular body shape. When describing yourself or others, focus on inner qualities or skills, rather than appearance. Similarly, take care of your body by exercising regularly.
3. Model a healthy relationship with food. Do not demonise certain foods as bad for you or too fattening. In order to encourage healthy eating habits, instead talk about whether certain foods are nourishing or will provide the nutrients that bodies need. Try to avoid having your children see you on a constant diet.
4. Do not dismiss your child’s concerns about his or her body. Particularly as children reach puberty, they are likely to discover that there are things about their own bodies that they do not like. Listen to and validate these feelings ??“ that is, behave toward your child as though his or her feelings are understandable. Do not try to convince your child that she is wrong or should not feel this way, as this kind of response is invalidating.
5. Help your child to see themself as a whole person. We all have many different strengths and weaknesses that make us the wonderful human beings we are. Talk to your child regularly about the inner qualities, such as skills and personality traits, that make them unique.