Help build your child’s foundation for positive body image
Children and teenagers go through their days in a tornado of factors battering their body image. They see impossibly thin models or ripped action stars on television and online. They hear comments and expectations from their peers. Their hormones can throw their bodies and minds out of whack.
There’s no single trigger that causes kids to have negative body image, says Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association. But parents should be front and center in trying to help their kids weather the storm. Mysko says the simple act of talking to your kids about our culture’s unattainable appearance standards can make a difference.
“Teach them that people come in all shapes and sizes and there is no one correct way to have a body,” she says. “Encouraging physical activity and a balanced diet as part of a healthy lifestyle rather than a means to achieving a certain body, and acknowledging and praising your children for accolades other than their appearance,” all can foster a better environment for kids at home.
The reverse is true, too. Parents can reinforce the ideals pushed by mass media—thin girls and muscle-bound boys—if they’re not careful of how they treat themselves. Kids hear the snide comments parents make about their own bodies and might follow suit.
“Do not ascribe morals to foods,” Mysko tells parents. “Food is fuel for your body, not something that determines whether you’re ‘good’ or ‘bad.’”
Some kids will never develop body image issues, Mysko says, while others can start even before the first grade. Regardless, parents should do what they can to address outside influences early on.
“Children are more likely to have a positive body image when hearing body-positive comments” in their environments, she says.