When so much of our media glorifies unrealistic beauty and image standards, both children and adults can struggle with body positivity. Teaching kids to value characteristics beyond appearance can certainly be a challenge. But doing so early helps kids (and even parents!) learn to love their bodies and see themselves and the world through a more accepting lens.
Why Teaching Body Positivity is Important
While many parents and caregivers tend to associate a poor body image with adolescence, unhealthy views on appearance can begin as early as preschool. Kids with a healthy body image tend to be more confident, have higher self-esteem, value all shapes and sizes, and are less likely to develop eating disorders.
Eating disorder therapist Rachel Millner, Psy.D. told the New York Times: “We don’t want our kids to learn to change themselves anytime they’re teased or feel like they don’t fit in. We want them to stand up to that kind of stigma.” Children’s bodies change drastically as they grow and develop, which is why it’s so important to teach body positivity at an early age.
Tips for Encouraging a Healthy Body Image
Here are a few ways to foster a healthy body image with your child:
Start with Yourself
Every day, we are bombarded with messages on dieting and images that emphasize attractiveness. It’s no surprise that an unhealthy body image can follow us into adulthood! However, it’s important to remember that kids can be incredibly perceptive to our body-image issues. Be aware of what you say about your body in front of your child. Allow them to see you embrace imperfections and talk about your body in a positive way. Being more accepting of our bodies doesn’t only benefit children – it helps us recognize the unique beauty in all of us.
Talk About the Body
Kids need to learn about their bodies and how humans come in all shapes and sizes. Learning about how the body works can shift the focus from how the body looks. Play games or activities that identify body parts, what they do, and how they’re wonderful just the way they are!
Here’s an example for preschool-age children; ask them to point to their nose, ask what their nose does, and tell them how beautiful their nose is because of what it can do (help them smell flowers or cookies from the oven).
Expose Them to Diverse Body Images in Media
Make an effort to expose your child to casts of characters with various body shapes, sizes, developmental differences, and races. Without diversity in their books, TV shows, or films, it can be difficult for kids to feel included or recognized. Remember to highlight characteristics beyond a characters’ appearance, such as intelligence, humor, and kindness.
Focus on Health, Not Weight
In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report that advised parents and caregivers not to discuss weight, dieting, or body size with young children. Emphasizing weight over health can put kids at risk of developing an eating disorder in adolescence. When it comes to food and exercise, try to focus on health benefits and having fun. Forming a healthy relationship with food and physical activity at an early age can help kids enjoy nutritious meals and exercise well into adulthood. In addition, they’re less likely to become preoccupied with body size and weight as they develop.
Remember that a positive body image starts with you! Setting a good example for kids can help them learn to love themselves and the way they look.