With many different body types being healthy and several strategies to maintain good health, it’s crucial that we teach lessons about body positivity to each child early on, ideally by age 5. It’s a beautiful and natural aspect of life that we all look different. While addressing health risks associated with obesity, overweight, and underweight is important, it’s equally essential to foster an environment where individuals of all sizes can feel good about themselves.
The truth is that having a positive body image is crucial to overall happiness. Raising a child with a healthy sense of body image, self-confidence, and a focus on function rather than looks can have lasting benefits. However, problems like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are linked to low self-esteem.
According to Kerry Heath, LPC-S, NCC, CEDS-S, a licensed professional counselor and certified eating disorder specialist based in Phoenix, “Kids are more likely to have eating disorders, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders if they don’t learn to feel good about their bodies and aren’t told that all bodies are okay.”
The earliest age at which youngsters are found to discuss body image concerns is five. Therefore, parents need to initiate these talks at a young age. Simple approaches that parents can take in teaching their children about body positivity even before they enter kindergarten are outlined by experts.
1. Help Children Understand Their Bodies
Help your young toddler or preschooler explore his or her physicality. As early as 6 months of age, parents can begin identifying their child’s hands, feet, fingers, toes, nose, and eyes.
“By 1 year, they have a basic idea of how their bodies work,” says Natalie Geary, M.D., founder, and medical director of Veda Health in Miami. She specializes in pediatrics and family medicine.
Dr. Geary recommends that when children are a little older, parents stand with them in front of a mirror and ask questions like, “Where are your ears?” Finally, compliment their hearing by saying, “Your ears are incredible.” Keep in mind that between the ages of 15 and 24 months, most children develop the ability to recognize their own reflection in a mirror.
Also, please use formal nomenclature when referring to one’s privates. ‘Pee-pee’ and similar nicknames suggest that their bearers are guilty of something shameful.
2. Focus on Health, Not Size
Youngsters must understand that health and wellness, not size and attractiveness, are at the heart of body positivity and a good body image. You can be gorgeous at any height, weight, or body mass index.
Messages like these stress the importance of moderation and a focus on health. Don’t bring up taboo foods or things you’re not allowed to eat. Instead, show them how to properly portion meals, snacks, and desserts by following your own healthy example of eating a diet that includes all the food categories.
3. Get the Kids Moving!
Good health requires regular physical activity, so it’s important to encourage kids to discover physical pursuits they enjoy as early as possible. This aids in conveying the idea that physical activity can be fun. “Families who make movement and exercise a part of their routine will more likely raise children who exercise regularly and feel comfortable in their bodies doing so,” adds Heath.
Don’t frame exercise solely as a weight loss strategy. Heath warns against forcing children to exercise to help them lose weight, saying that doing so will teach them to “hate their bodies” and “hate exercise.” Also, avoid any forms of weight teasing since they have been shown to lead to weight increase, binge eating, and excessive dieting.
Naturally, it may be difficult for kids to exercise during the pandemic. “Many kids go to school online at home, where there isn’t a field to help them get rid of excess energy and stay healthy,” says Ilan Shapiro, M.D. Fortunately, there are easy methods to workout together in the comfort of your own home, and you can even make it a game.
4. Discuss Food in a Positive Light
The dinner table should be a safe place for discussion, not a battleground if your child has food issues. Fill your table with healthy foods and talk about why eating fruits and vegetables with meals is important. For instance, you could say to your kids, “For instance, you could tell your kids that eating veggies and fruit gives us the energy to play, makes us happy, and helps us grow strong and healthy.”
Don’t assume that kids will know adult jargon. Set up three categories for the foods your family eats regularly, occasionally, and infrequently. Foods like protein, salad, and veggies are staples in our diet because they are healthy and nutritious. Things like takeaway are acceptable under this category. How about the rarely used category? Consider snacks like chips, sweets, doughnuts, and ice cream. You could say that things that taste great but are bad for the body because they are heavy in sugar or fat belong in the “very rarely” category.
5. Negate Falsehoods
A child can’t get away from today’s media and its unrealistic beauty standards. However, checking in and rectifying false beliefs about diet, physical activity, one’s own body, and other people is essential. Teach your children that people should not be judged based on their size, whether they are overweight or underweight, just as they should not be criticized based on their disability or race.
To prevent low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders in youngsters, it is important to instill in them the belief that their bodies are perfect just the way they are.
6. Be a Role Model
If you want your young child to develop a healthy body image, the greatest thing you can do is set a good example. It’s important to teach our kids to love themselves and others for who they truly are, not how they look.
Remember that kids this age are quick to imitate what they see and hear. It’s vital to watch what we say around our kids about our bodies and the bodies of others as they grow up. The finest thing you can do for your child is to accept yourself, flaws and all, right now.
That’s impossible! Heath suggests doing mundane tasks with an optimistic outlook, such as putting on a swimsuit or getting dressed. Telling children they are not good enough unless they change their appearance or lose weight sends the wrong message about their worth. One day, they’ll start to question whether or not they measure up.