Kids’ bodies change as they grow and begin to experience puberty. Likewise, the way they feel about their bodies can change too. More than half of kids between the ages of 9 and 14 are unhappy with their body shape. And half of the girls expressed a desire to be thinner. While being uncomfortable with a changing body is a somewhat natural and relatively common aspect of growing up, these feelings of dissatisfaction can follow them into adulthood.
As a parent, you have the unique opportunity and responsibility of teaching your kids about positive body image, even in the midst of all their growing and changing. Here are some ways you can cultivate a more optimistic self-perception in your children.
1. Encourage Open Discussion
Talking to your kids about body image can be difficult. You don’t want to say the wrong thing or make them start worrying about weight. But you do want to discuss the importance of health and nutrition. So begin by slowly introducing the point that everyone’s body looks different. Some people are naturally smaller or larger and that’s ok. Reiterate that the number on a scale is just that — a number.
Of course, your words might not stick for very long when society is constantly pressuring kids and teens to be skinny and weigh less. So, it’s important to make body image an ongoing discussion. Talk to your child about society’s skewed standards when they express jealousy of a model on a magazine or the TV screen. And remind them that health isn’t about what you look like, it’s about how you feel. And there’s no such thing as a perfect or ideal body.
2. Focus on Health, Not Weight
Once again, it’s essential you focus on health instead of weight. So, expressing concern for their size, tell your children you’re worried about how tired or uninterested they’ve been lately. Suggest some fruits or veggies to give them some more energy or go on a walk together to get their blood flowing. They may be surprised at how much better they feel after participating in some healthy activities or eating a balanced meal.
Likewise, if your child does lose weight, avoid remarking on how good they look since they shed some pounds. While you may think comments like these are compliments, they can be detrimental to an impressionable kid or young adult. Instead of receiving this comment and dismissing it, they may begin to obsess over their weight and strive to become thinner. Thus, a vicious cycle begins where they develop unhealthy habits and lose weight just to gain attention and praise.
3. Make Exercise Fun
Feeling fit, strong and good in general is part of having a positive body image. And your children won’t feel that way if they see exercise as a punishment or a chore. So, if your kid absolutely hates running, try going to a zumba class together. Or maybe try a yoga or pilates class. Try everything until something sticks. Because having fun is the most important part of exercise. If your child doesn’t love it, they won’t do it.
Once they find something they love, encourage them to make it a habit — which won’t be difficult if they do truly enjoy the activity. It can be as simple as running around the playground or park or doing cartwheels in the front yard. Having fun and exercising at the same time will encourage your kids to develop and maintain healthy habits that translate into a lifestyle. And, as they reach adulthood, they’ll be more likely to continue to pursue an active lifestyle.
4. Watch Out for Bullies
Once your little one begins attending school, they are at risk of being bullied, no matter their size. This can take a major toll on your kid’s self-esteem and body image. So, if you notice that your child is acting or feeling insecure, shy or hurt, they may be a victim of body-shaming or bullying. Ask them what’s bothering them and, if your suspicions are true, try consoling them and reassure them that they’re perfect just the way they are, regardless of what anyone says.
Of course, you’ll also want to talk with your child’s teacher and possibly the principal to address the issue and educate other children in the school about bullying. Ask the school to support an education or program that promotes health and acceptance for all kids. Often, talking about bullies and their weaknesses dethrones them and invalidates their harsh words.
5. Teach By Example
How you as a parent feel about and treat your body has a powerful influence on your children. Even when you don’t think your kids are paying attention to you, they are — and they’re picking up on your lifestyle choices. They hear you when you complain about your postpartum weight or the flabby skin under your arms. They see you stuff your tummy into restricting shapewear or eat ice cream every other night. And, because they want to be just like you, they’ll begin mirroring these actions if you aren’t careful.
So lead by example by accepting your body and loving it just the way it is. Feed it nutritious foods and give it plenty of exercise. Make these activities a family affair and involve your kids in your healthy, active lifestyle. Your kids will quickly pick up on your habits and likely follow suit. Then, you’ll all be on your way to a more positive body image.
Article Submitted By Community Writer