Promoting body positivity can be challenging with so many negative messages out in the world. Parents play a key role in how their kids view their bodies as they start to understand their health, so it’s important to have conversations around their appearance and weight in a compassionate manner.
Kids are inundated with misleading images of the perfect body on television and social media daily, causing them to become more dissatisfied with their bodies as they grow. The Child Development Institute found that 40 percent of children as young as two to four worry about their weight, size or appearance. In a country where 30 million people suffer from eating disorders, and an increase in overweight kids getting bullied, it’s important to instill confidence in our families by promoting a positive self-image at home. To help build confidence, here are a few parenting tips for nurturing body positivity.
1. Be a body positive role model as a parent
Self confidence starts with you. Avoid discussions about losing your beer belly or making self-deprecating jokes about your own image around your kids. Look in the mirror, and pinpoint what you love about yourself. Compliment your shape and size, and praise your body for something it lets you do, not what it can’t do. It’s also important to talk to them about gender identity, assuring them it’s OK to have feminine or masculine traits, appearances or hobbies whether you’re a boy or a girl.
Choose to talk about yourself with respect and appreciation with your kids. Avoid expressing any guilt around certain foods you eat, or missing an opportunity to exercise. Let them know why you’re choosing to eat healthier and reinforce the importance of eating growing foods like vegetables and healthy fats.
2. Teach your child about self-acceptance
Building self-confidence can be difficult for anybody, but it’s especially challenging when you’re young. The social pressure to be thin is one of the many complicated reasons people of all genders develop an eating disorder, with body dissatisfaction affecting 90% of females and almost half of males. One JAMA Pediatrics study also found that girls as young as 10 years old were more likely to reach harmful weights if a close family member negatively addressed how they look. Placing pressure on a child to have the ideal body type can lead to low-self esteem, which is linked to depression, and developing unhealthy eating habits.
Teaching your kids about self-acceptance is an important part of building their confidence. Doing this allows them to shift negativity away from themselves, and prepares them to be comfortable with expressing their feelings accurately. Let your child pursue their interests, and help them set goals. Offer praise around their abilities, and provide them with opportunities to value success and failure equally in your feedback. Make it clear that you love them unconditionally, no matter how they look, or if they didn’t win their baseball game.
3. Talk to your kids about “the perfect body”
Parents preparing to talk to their kids about their well-being should cover topics around health and not weight. Avoid hurtful language and child blaming, and never comment on their appearance, or image. Instead, let your kids know that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and focus conversations on their skills and abilities. Gently let them know their appearance will change over time, but explain that size and weight doesn’t dictate happiness. Deconstruct cultural body norms by explaining to them that “fat” doesn’t equate bad health and help them learn to respect that all body types can be healthy.
Address what they see on TV and social media. Help them to think critically about any media promoting unrealistic beauty standards, or stereotypes around gender by asking questions and providing counterpoints to dangerous diet culture. Reinforce that a perfect body is one that accomplishes things, and not one that looks a certain way. Continue these conversations as your kids approach puberty, and let them know they can come to you with any topic they need to discuss, no matter how hard it is.
4. Help children enjoy their bodies and encourage physical activity
Encourage your kids to stay active in ways that work for them. Children don’t need fancy gyms and personal trainers to get moving. Inspire them to follow their passions and stay active, whether they like gymnastics, taekwondo or skateboarding. Join them on walks and bike rides, or throw a ball around outside as a family. Make sure to praise them when they make accomplishments, and support them when they challenge themselves.
Create an active foundation that communicates the value of athletic success and failure that transcends looks. Acknowledge that different bodies can achieve different successes, but that it’s OK for your child to have different athletic abilities and body types than their friends. Help guide them towards activities they enjoy that keep their body healthy.
5. Create positive connections with food
Studies show that eating disorders run in the family. Building positive relationships with your kids around food by making healthy eating fun allows them to determine how they feel about what’s on their plate. Make cooking together a family activity, and visit grocery stores and farmers markets to pick out fresh produce. You can even put a healthy twist on your favorite meals—like cauliflower wings or spinach lasagna. Avoid banning foods at home like candy or ice cream, and instead teach your kids about healthy portioning. Encourage balanced and health-friendly meals, and never treat food as a reward.
Improve how your kids see themselves by being mindful with how you treat your own self-image. Make compliments about what your children do, rather than how they look. Be kind to yourself. Promote self-care, encourage exercise, avoid harmful language, eat well and be proud of who you are, and your kids will do the same.
If you’re feeling stumped about encouraging body positivity and health in your child, our caring practitioners at NWPC can answer any questions you may have. Don’t be afraid to reach out for advice on nutrition or exercise plans, as well.