How to Help Your Child Develop a Healthy Body Image

Body image is a learned behavior. It’s learned from society, peers and family and it stays with us for life.

The effect of society on body image

The benchmark here is the fashion and entertainment industries. When you see fashion models are they realistically proportioned people? NO!!! The vast majority of them fit an extremely narrow segment of society… those with an hourglass figure. Most female models in particular are size 4-8… despite the average size being 12-14. Keep in mind that these girls are most probably underweight. If we compare ourselves to them, of course we end up feeling like big fat blimps!

It’s important to teach your children that very few people could ever fit this ideal since it is based on the classic hourglass figure and only 5% of people have this figure type. For anyone else to reach these proportions it would be physically impossible, not to mention extremely unhealthy. If your child is in their mid teens it’s probably a good idea to help them identify their own body type to help avoid comparisons. If they DO have an hourglass figure it’s probably best to focus on healthy body size… you might want to calculate their BMI with them. To learn how to do this visit How to calculate BMI

The effect of peers on body image

Children are extremely impressionable and dependent upon the approval of others. So when their peers say they are fat, ugly or whatever, children take it to heart. Of course, children don’t have the maturity to understand what is and isn’t a healthy size. Combine that with the fact that children can be extremely cruel because they haven’t learned to treat others as they want to be treated. These factors mean a child can receive some extremely negative messages about their body at a time when they desperately need positive affirmations.

The effect of family on body image

While most of the blame for body image issues goes to the fashion and entertainment industries, what children see at home can also have a negative impact. For example, when we make negative comments about our body our children hear that and trust our opinion… we’re their parents after all, adults who must therefore be right about these things… NOT!!! Children use our opinions to create their own perceptions of appropriate body size. Thus, the more negative we are, the more negative they learn to be. This relates to any part of the body, whether it be our bottom, thighs, love handles, face, arms, neck, whatever part of our body we don’t like. Unfortunately, children learn from that.

Constantly talking about being ‘on a diet’ or ‘trying to lose weight’ has the same effect. Think of ‘diet’ as a dirty word! Again, children learn from this. All they have is inaccurate perceptions provided by other people. Without educated knowledge of what is and isn’t a healthy body size it can have a very detrimental effect on their body image.

It is important to educate children about their body as they approach those turbulent teenage years when they start to take control of their own lives and truly become an individual. But how do we do this so they will develop a healthy body image?

Here are a few tips:
  1. Avoid making negative comments about YOUR body in front of your child, even if you think they’re not around.
  2. Switch negative comments to positive by changing the ‘I’m on a diet’ line to ‘I’m being health conscious’ (being on a diet is negative, being health conscious is positive). Don’t mention trying to lose weight especially if you’re only trying to lose a small amount
  3. Avoid making negative comments about their body like ‘gosh you’re getting chubby’ because if their peers are making comments you’ll just be reinforcing the negative body image
  4. Help your child understand that society has an unrealistic ideal because they focus on only one body type when there are many body types (and show them those body types). Teach them how trying to conform to society’s unrealistic ideal is not only impossibe, but extremely unhealthy when they don’t have that body type.
  5. Help your child understand that their peers are just spouting what they see in the fashion and entertainment industry when they make negative comments about one anothers bodies.
  6. If they need to lose weight, don’t tell them you’re putting them on a diet, just substitute some healthy options like fruit for high energy, high sugar, high fat content snacks.
  7. Most importantly – Make sure you provide positive affirmations about their physical appearance like; you have a good figure, you’re well built, you’re pretty/handsome etc
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