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Promoting a Positive Body Image to Your Children

Like adolescents and adults, children can develop a negative attitude toward their own bodies, regardless of age, size, or weight. These body image issues can affect many facets of their lives, including their self-esteem, eating habits, anxiety levels, and the way that they take care of their bodies.

While culture and media play a big role in negative body images, the ideals that parents and other close adults exude or try to achieve is pivotal in the way children view themselves. After all, it should not be surprising for a child to feel negatively about his or her own body while being surrounded by a parent’s constant acknowledgement and frustration about being “fat.”

You should examine your own body image issues. Are you constantly on a diet? Do you make negative comments about your weight and size? How about someone else’s appearance? If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you might consider making sure that your child is not internalizing this barrage of “fat-shaming” and start promoting a positive body image.

What is a positive body image?

A positive body image usually promotes a healthy physical ideal without encouraging that goal through harmful dieting or exercise practices. When defining a positive body image to your children, you should remember the following:

  • healthy bodies can be all different shapes and sizes, there is no one “perfect” body;
  • weight gain is a normal part of childhood development, especially during puberty;
  • personal body images are very subjective and should relate more to how you feel about yourself than how others see you;
  • your size and weight does not correlate with happiness, success, or wealth;
  • words like “fat” or “ugly” are harmful and should not be used;
  • images portrayed in the media are unrealistic and should not dictate ideals; and
  • everybody has different talents, skills, and abilities regardless of what they look like.

How can you tell if your child has a negative body image?’

Typically, children with negative body images will display many signs, including:

  • eating only small portions of food or refusing to eat;
  • acting as though they have an intense fear of becoming “fat;”
  • making frequent comments about other people’s weight;
  • commonly describing themselves in a negative way; and
  • feeling depressed or exhibiting low self-esteem.

What can you do to help your child if he or she has a negative body image?

  • Place less emphasis on your child’s appearance and promote any talents or skills.
  • Encourage your child to think critically of the unrealistic expectations in magazines or on TV.
  • Don’t let your child diet. Instead, support healthy eating habits.
  • Send a message of acceptance by being physically affectionate with your child.
  • Don’t let other adults or children comment on your child’s weight or size.

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