Most of us will have struggled with a negative body image at some point, but it may shock and surprise you to know that this can start at a very young age. Research shows that children as young as five years old are aware of their self-image and by the time they are ten years old, 80% of girls have been on a diet. So what can we do to help teach our children body positivity?
The important thing is that you start instilling a positive body image in your children as young as possible. You never know how soon they will begin to pick up on things, so even as toddlers, try to follow these tips and guidance. It will also make things easier for you as they will become a habit.
Think about what you say about yourself and others
You might not notice when your children are listening or what it is they pay attention to (certainly not when you ask them to pick up their toys right?!), but try to be hyper-aware of the things you say about your own body and others’. If you are constantly on a diet or say things like “I’m too fat, I need to lose weight,” your children will learn that “being fat is bad and you have to change.” This is not something you would ever say directly to a child, but through your actions, this is what you are telling them. If you comment on other peoples’ bodies, either on TV, in magazines or just in the street, you are showing your child that bodies are there to be judged and if they don’t look a certain way, they are wrong.
Give them good compliments
Body positivity isn’t all about telling your children that they are beautiful and perfect. In fact, it’s much better to give them compliments about things they have control over, such as “you are so kind” or “your jokes really make me laugh.” If you do want to make comments about their body, you could try saying things like “look how strong your body has gotten” or “look at all the amazing things it can do.” Teach your child to love their body and embrace it for what it is, rather than continually feeling that it’s ‘wrong’, needs to look a certain way or has to change.
Happiness in eating well
Be aware of what you say about food around your child. If you make fruit and vegetables a chore to be eaten, your child will feel the same. Don’t say things like “I shouldn’t have eaten those cookies, I feel guilty,” as this fosters an unhealthy relationship with food. Try to frame these conversations around positives such as “it feels great to eat fruit.” When it comes to exercise, focus on the positives such as being fun and keeping you healthy, rather than a necessary evil to lose weight.
Avoid body shaming
You may not think you ever body shame your child, but it is easy to do without even noticing. For example, when they try something on, you might tell them that it makes them look a ‘little chunky,’ or if they are eating some sweets, you might say to them that they will get fat. You might think that these little comments won’t do any harm, but they will really stick with your child.
These are just a few small changes you can make to teach your children body positivity from a young age – something they will hopefully carry with them into adulthood.