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How to help children avoid Body Image Issues

Body image

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“I’m so fat.” “I’m ugly.” Words like these may be upsetting to hear when they come from a 10-year-old or a teenager, but it can be really disturbing when they’re spoken by kids as young as preschool or kindergarten age. Various research has shown that kids may begin to worry about body weight and physical appearance as early as age 3 to 5 and that many young children express unhappiness about their bodies.

Body image is a big part of your child’s self-esteem. If children don’t like the way they look or are dissatisfied with their bodies, their self-esteem will suffer. How they see themselves can affect every aspect of their lives — either negatively or positively. It affects their choices, both long-term and short-term. It can impact their ability to meet people and make friends. These social consequences often last a lifetime.

This can lead to health consequences, too. People with low self-esteem are more likely to be depressed and have anxiety.

Tips for Parents

Kids learn about body image—and develop anxieties about their appearance—from a variety of sources, including parents, friends and peers, and the media. Parents can play a crucial role in encouraging a sense of good body image in kids. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Watch your words. Don’t say things like, “I look so fat in this,” or “I can’t eat this because it’ll make me fat.” Your child is listening and learning from you. The Common Sense Media study found that kids ages 5 to 8 who think their moms are unhappy with their bodies are more likely to be dissatisfied with their own bodies. Show confidence in your body as well as about yourself.
  • Try not to focus on appearance. Don’t talk about people’s appearance and their bodies and focus on more important things about a person, such as how kind or charitable they are or whether they have good manners or work hard.
  • Emphasize exercise and healthy eating over their weight. Spend family time doing active things like playing outside, riding bikes, and going to the park. When you go grocery shopping, let kids help you choose healthy fruits and vegetables and read nutrition labels together to teach kids about healthy eating habits.

  • Scan their toys. Take a look at the action figures in your son’s toy chest. Do they have unrealistic bulging muscles? Do the dolls in your daughter’s room have proportions that are not humanly possible? Try to edit these toys out or at least balance them out with more realistic representations of the human body. Better yet, stock up on brain-building board games, puzzles, and great books for kids.
  • Talk about gender and body stereotypes in ads and media. View content with your child and when you see commercials or TV shows or movies that feature women in skimpy costumes or make unhealthy foods look tempting, talk about what’s wrong with these images.
  • Limit screen time. Studies have shown that cutting back screen time can reduce kids’ risk of obesity and even improve grades. Teach kids to view junk food ads, which are now even following kids online, with an understanding of what they are trying to sell and talk about why these foods are bad for their health.

Now is the time to change the conversation. The way you talk about your body will influence your child. The meals you eat, the meals you serve, whether you exercise, and the importance you place on how you look will influence your child.

Read more: How can we make it easier for children to cope with anxiety?

Try to avoid talking about diets and fat-free food in front of your kids. Most importantly, don’t say, “I wish I looked like him.” Do find a role model, someone you admire based on their attitude, their kindness, or their good works. Tell your child. Let them hear you say, “I want to do more good like him.”

This can lead to health consequences, too. People with low self-esteem are more likely to be depressed and have anxiety. Experiencing and being treated for depression can cause weight gain, which makes low self-esteem even worse. Another common inappropriate way to cope is to develop an eating disorder. Each of these can have a negative impact on your child’s health.

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