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Help Your Child Develop a Positive Body Image

Body ImageAs a mom of a boy and a girl, I’ve started mentally preparing myself to talk to my daughter about her body image, having confidence in herself, and not letting society or boys or her friends dictate how she feels about her body. I’ve experienced how hard it is to be a woman, trying to live up to society’s (unrealistic) body expectations.

What I didn’t prepare myself for is having to have that conversation with my 9-year-old son.

A few weeks ago, we were packing to go on a cruise for spring break. My son mentioned that he was “only going to eat healthy foods until we leave for the cruise.” I asked him why, assuming it was because my husband and I had recently cleaned up our diet and started exercising.

“Well, I just, you know, don’t want to be fat.”

I was shocked. He’s not at all overweight and it’s not really something we talk about a lot at our house. I asked him why he was worried about being fat. He went on to tell me that a kid at school (who is, I hate to say it, pretty consistently a jerk) had called him chubby twice.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that my first thought was not very nice toward this other child. I held my tongue and went on to explain to my son that he was at a 100 percent healthy weight and that the doctor had given him a clean bill of health just a few months before. We talked about how he is active in baseball, hockey, and gets plenty of exercise at home. I pointed out that he eats lots of fruits and vegetables and rarely gets sick. I tried to just focus on healthy habits and not make our conversation about how he looks. I didn’t want to reinforce that fat is bad, but to talk about his strengths.

At the end of our conversation, he seemed less worried about it and he hasn’t brought it up since. It was a parenting moment that made me wonder, for days after, if I had said the right things. So as modern-day parents do, I turned to the Internet. I found some trusted sources and compiled a list of some of the best ways, according to the experts, you can help your kids have a positive body image.

Lead by example.

This is one of the biggest things parents can do to promote a positive body image. Talk about your own body the way you want your children to talk about theirs. If they constantly hear you talking negatively about yourself, like about how fat you are or how you hate your hair, they will likely internalize that message and start thinking of their own bodies negatively. If you’re trying to lose weight, talk to your kids how diet and exercise is making your body stronger and healthier – not just smaller.

Talk about healthy choices.

It’s important to teach kids how to make healthy choices. Talk about what foods are healthy, why unhealthy foods should only be eaten in moderation, and why exercise is important. The focus should always be on making your body stronger and healthier – not changing the way you look.

Make it a family affair.

It’s always easier to make healthy choices when the people around you are doing the same. If you or your children need to change some habits, enlist your whole family in choosing and making healthy recipes, exercising together, and adopting other aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

Talk about confidence from within.

Teach your children that they have many wonderful qualities, beyond just how they look. Compliment them on how smart, artistic, compassionate, brave, and fun they are. When I was talking to my son, I told him there would always be kids who wanted to point out his “flaws” or try to make him feel bad about himself. I explained to him that he has family and friends who love him and that he’s funny, smart, and kind – and those are traits he should be proud of.

Talk about realistic body expectations.

When your children are old enough, discuss the impact the media has on what we think a person should look like. Talk to them about Photoshop and how the images we see in the media have been retouched and changed to make them look better. Talk about realistic expectations and focus their thoughts and actions on building strong, healthy bodies.

In our crazy, mixed-up world of altered advertising images and unrealistic expectations of what our bodies should look like, helping our children develop a positive body image becomes a critical part of parenting. Good luck as you support your child on this journey toward what’s truly important: creating and maintaining a strong, healthy body.

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