It’s a sad fact that people often begin developing a negative body image from a very young age. There are studies that say children began speaking about their self image as young five years old. Even more concerning, the study reports that 80% of girls have been on a diet by the time they were 10 years old.
But parents have a lot of control in shaping whether or not their children develop an unhealthy body image by how they talk about themselves in front of their kids.
For starters, beware of criticizing your own body in front of your kids. Even toddlers will pick up on the negative self image, affecting how their own sense of self develops. Melinda Parrish is a body positivity activist and model who spoke to Business Insider about how pointing out our physical flaws impacts our children.
“These types of statements reveal our own discomfort with our bodies. What children learn from these types of statements is, ‘When I am fat or heavy, I’m bad,’ ‘I should dress to hide my body,’ and ‘I have to restrict my food in order to be ‘good enough.’ None of us want to teach our kids these beliefs.” It’s important for adults to really monitor how they talk about themselves in front of their kids, as well as learning to love their bodies as they are.
It’s also important for adults to steer their children towards healthy behaviors. For example, by demonstrating that exercise can be fun, rather than a necessary evil. Frame your comments about making healthy choices in the positive, as in “it feels better to eat fruit” than “I feel terrible for eating cookies”.
On the flip side, it’s just as important for parents to not criticize their children’s bodies. Most especially, avoid calling them fat or shaming them for eating an unhealthy meal. Children’s bodies are constantly changing, so the most important part is helping them to understand the changes, without making them feel ashamed.
It’s also helpful to find activities that boost a child’s confidence, particularly those that keep them moving. Of course, nothing is fool proof, but following the above advice will hopefully help parents to raise happy and confident children.