If you’re raising kids these days, you probably belong to a generation that grew up with some pretty damaging messages about body idealism. However, in recent years, we’ve seen a significant, healthy shift towards body-positive language. The trend of idealizing bodies may never fade, but as parents, we should do our due diligence and raise body-positive children who can feel comfortable and happy in their own skins.
What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Let’s clear up any confusion now. As pediatricians, we’re 100% for healthy children and staying in shape. However, the “shape” we’re talking about is different for everyone. When we push an ideal body image for our children we run the risk of instilling body dysmorphia in our little ones and that’s the last thing we want to do.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a condition in which an individual becomes negatively obsessed with one or several of their own physical characteristics. Children are particularly at risk for developing body dysmorphic disorder, especially as the need to fit in and meet the expectation of their peers begins to take priority. It’s our responsibility as parents to help our children grow up happy and healthy, so we’ve outlined some ways to approach body-positive parenting.
Remember These Tips Going In
There are several important tips to remember when discussing body positivity with your child. We want to instill confidence, and much of that comes from avoiding common pitfalls.
As a rule, we make it a point to remind parents not to tease or shame their children for natural behaviors and especially their bodies. Children rely on their parents for support and guidance. Children are under enough pressure as is from their peers and from the media that adding to it at home can really compound the hurt. Even innocent teasing can be particularly damaging on a wrong day. Instead, focus on being uplifting and encouraging. Remember, trust is just as fragile for children as it is for adults, and no one likes to be teased.
Food Isn’t Evil
This kind of behavior is practically ingrained into U.S. culture. You’ve probably even participated in proliferating this stigma recently without realizing it. When discussing food with children (and with ourselves), it’s essential that we remember that food is just...food. Food isn’t good or bad. Food doesn’t have an agenda or moral leaning. Food is just sustenance.
Avoid using negative language like the following when it comes to food.
- I’m going to be bad and eat a cookie.
- I shouldn’t eat these french fries, but I’m going to.
- I can’t eat this today, I ate ___ last night.”
Children pick up on those cues more closely than you think, so be wary of your own relationship with food influencing your conversation about it with your children.
Health And Weight Are Not The Same Things
These two items are so often tangled together that they can appear to mean the same thing. While maintaining a healthy weight is a good thing, genetics play a far bigger role in health than we give them credit for. That’s why it’s essential to remember that health and weight aren’t the same things and that they aren’t always tied together.
Read More: Children and Dieting
There Is No Perfect Body
One of the coolest things about humans is that we are all beautiful; small, large, curvy, thin, round---beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And as we mentioned above, genetics play a huge role in what’s healthy for our own bodies. No matter how hard we try, it’s impossible to fit any two bodies into the same mold. In fact, 95% of diet and exercise routines fail. Remind your child as they grow, that their bodies will change, and that’s great. Change is part of growing up, and learning to accept ourselves is a huge part of that.
Promoting A Positive Body Image
Now that we’ve talked a little about what to avoid, let’s talk about what we can do as parents to help our children maintain a healthy body image.
Children begin to recognize themselves in the mirror at around 18 months. However, you should begin talking about anatomy as early as 6 months, in basic terms. Discuss fingers, toes, ears, legs, elbows, etc., and incorporate body-positive language as their language skills begin to develop. When your children become verbal, you can even stand with them in front of a mirror and discuss body parts and what they help us do.
- These are our ears, they help us hear!
- Where are your knees? They’re great at helping us jump really high!
Not only does teaching anatomy aid in fostering positive body image, but this can also be a natural segway into teaching them about boundaries.
Read More: How To Have “The Talk” With Your Children
Shift The Conversation Surrounding Physical Activity
Do you enjoy being forced to exercise? No? Well, neither do children. Teaching your kids about setting goals is a great way to help them learn how to self-manage and learn about processes and outcomes. That being said, urging them to exercise so that they don’t “get fat” or so they can be “big and strong” might not be the best approach.
Instead, focus on the other benefits of being active.
- Exercise can make us feel happy.
- Getting active helps us sleep better at night.
- Playing a sport is a fun way to play with our friends.
And don’t forget to remind your children that athletes come in all shapes and sizes. The important part is to have fun and to feel good doing it!
Teach Your Child Self-Acceptance
Finally, help your child practice self-acceptance. Being kind to ourselves is something that even most adults struggle with. Teach your children that what they say to themselves matters. Self-depreciation can be as if not more damaging than teasing or criticism from friends and family. If your child fails to meet their own expectations, remind them that it’s okay to forgive themselves. Part of growing up is learning from our mistakes. When it comes to raising healthy children, self-acceptance is a vital component of teaching self-love.
Pediatrics East Has The Latest Information
Our expert pediatricians and compassionate staff have been helping families in Memphis and surrounding areas for years. If you have questions about fostering body positivity in your child, we’re always here to help you navigate that journey, and offer next-step advice. For more information, schedule an appointment.
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