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Promoting a Healthy Body Image in Kids

Parents Influence Kids' Body Image ThoughtsThe way that parents view their body can positively or negatively affect a child’s own body image.  While it’s normal to have thoughts or moments of body dissatisfaction, if taken to an extreme, it can lead to self-consciousness, anxiety and potentially an eating disorder.

The following are tips for parents in helping children develop a healthy body image:

Be OK with Your Own Body: Kids model after what they see. Parents are a primary influence on children and kids are constantly watching what their parents say and do, similar to coaches, teachers, the parents of their friends and other adults in their lives.

Keep from making negative comments about your own body. Instead, talk about how your body is able to function, such as your ability to see, hear, walk, talk and think. While it’s natural to feel uncomfortable about your body at times, increase awareness of your word choices when talking about your body in front of your children. Refrain from making comments about others bodies, whether positive or negative.

Do Not Label Certain Foods as Good or Bad: Instead, promote the following: Food is food, but certain foods have a negative connotation in our society.  When talking about food with your children, talk about balance, moderation and eating variety.

Focus on Being Healthy, Not Thin: Teach your children that it’s more important to be healthy than to try and fit into a certain size. Help them appreciate their “personality, talents and skills”.

Help your Child Become Media Savvy: Kids and adults are constantly bombarded with how they should look. The problem is, is that most of these kids don’t understand that these models have been falsely “photoshopped” to conform to a certain look. Help your child wade through these media messages. Teach them about models bodies being retouched and limit their exposure to magazines and television.

Teach Your Child to Enjoy Exercise, and Not Use it As Simply a Way to Lose Weight: Think about exercise as movement or physical activity rather than an intense, sweaty gym workout. Make movement enjoyable for the family by engaging in activities that can include the whole family, such as a hiking, walking and biking on trails with pleasant scenery. Join an intramural team within your community and make physical activity a social event. Teach kids to be moderate with physical activity to prevent obsession and preoccupation with it.

Listen to Your Children: Listen to what your children say about their bodies. If you child starts talking negatively about certain aspects, ask them why he/she feels this way. Take it as a teaching opportunity to show them that they are beautiful, no matter their size or shape. It’s important to always keep lines of communication open.

Rachel Levi, LMFT, CEDS, F- IAEDPFounder/Clinical Director
Shoreline Center for Eating Disorder Treatment

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