Help Your Child Have a Positive Body Image

Child Health | 4 years ago

Help Your Child Have a Positive Body Image

To help your kids have a positive body image, keep the focus on health. When children learn about eating nutritious foods and getting plenty of exercise, they’ll focus less on “the perfect body” and more on staying healthy and happy.

Parents and other adults play a crucial role in shaping how kids feel about their bodies – whether positive or negative. And those ideas can be formed very early: Studies have shown children as young as 3 years old may think they are fat or need to diet.

Promoting a positive body image can set children up for long-term success. They can feel more comfortable and confident, without obsessing over calories or weight. On the other hand, kids with a negative body image may develop anxiety and are at greater risk for eating disorders or obesity.

“Children are bombarded with idealized body images from many sources, including social media,” says Rhonda Patt, MD, a pediatrician with Atrium Health Levine Children's Charlotte Pediatric Clinic. “By serving as positive role models, parents can counter these images and strengthen their children’s self-esteem.”

What can parents do to nurture a healthy body image?

Keep the focus on health.

Being fit isn’t about numbers on a scale, but about eating nutritious foods and staying active. Help children learn to make smart snack choices and engage in physical activities that interest them – not ones that burn the most calories.

Children should also understand that as they mature, they should expect the size of their bodies to change. Weight gain is a normal part of growing up. 

It’s also best for parents to avoid using terms like “fat” or “chubby” to describe other people, says Dr. Patt. In this way, children won’t see body size as one of a person’s defining characteristics. 

Bust media myths.

Pictures of models that children see online, on TV or in ads often show just one vision of beauty: slim females and muscular males.

It’s up to parents to explain that these images are frequently manipulated to appear flawless. More important, children should be taught that no one body type is “perfect.” All shapes and sizes should be accepted and celebrated.

Take a look at your own body image.

Children may not always seem like they’re paying attention, but they are. If you find yourself complaining about your weight or following the latest diet fads, your children may begin to worry about their own shape and food choices. They may think thinness is a prize to be won – at all costs. 

“When parents accept their own bodies and don’t connect appearance with self-worth, children are more likely to think and act the same way,” says Dr. Patt.

Developing a positive body image happens over time. It’s never too early to help kids start feeling satisfied with their appearance.