Disclosure :: This post is sponsored by Ochsner Baton Rouge and written by Dr. Lori Cook. Promoting a healthy body image in children is so important and we are excited to bring you these tips!
Three Tips to Promote Healthy Body Image in Children
No matter where we look, we are bombarded with images of what we are told is a “perfect body.” Magazines, television shows and movies are filled with women with flawless skin, the perfect measurements and accentuated body features. Men appear with chiseled jaw lines, six-pack abs and muscles in all the right places. What they do not show are the cosmetics and photo editing that went into getting that look. Studies show that these images are affecting our self-confidence when it comes to our own bodies, and that is not healthy.
Research shows that children as young as three or four years old are aware of their appearance, including body shape and size. It is something that continues into the adolescent years, where the onset of puberty can be even more challenging. Although a higher percentage of girls say that body image affects them, boys are not immune from this perception issue.
When a child has a negative image of their body, it can lead to some mental health problems. Those issues can include low self-esteem, lower levels of confidence, depression and even isolation. While it is normal for children to compare themselves to others, there are signs that a child may be affected by their body image. Signs range from a child being bullied to a change in what and how much they eat.
It is important that parents begin promoting healthy body image in their children as they grow. There are several ways that parents can accomplish this.
Lose the word “fat.”
It is a well-known fact that children learn from their parents, and pick up their behaviors and traits. When a parent makes disparaging remarks about another person because of their body size, it is something that could affect a child in different ways. First, it shows a child that it is okay to fat-shame someone. Second, it could start a child down a path where they are constantly questioning their body size. Neither is a good example to set for your child. Also, remember that pointing out your own body’s flaws is not healthy. Remarks about your weight and other body issues could affect the way your child views their own body. As adults, we have all tried to avoid certain foods such as carbohydrates, candy and desserts because of calories. Remember that your child is still growing and needs a balanced diet, which includes fats and carbs.
Set the record straight.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the “perfect” body and face are everywhere. Your child is also seeing magazines, television shows, movies and social media. Make your child aware that what they see is not necessarily a person’s true appearance. There are even apps on our smartphones that can change facial and body features. While they might be fun to use, it is not reality.
It is important to educate your child on what will happen to their body size as they get older. Changes in weight in a child often happen before a growth spurt. As a child grows, their weight and height will increase, which translates into a child eating more.
Let your child know that people are not the same. A healthy body can come in all sizes and shapes. Remind them that it is important to maintain a healthy diet and to exercise regularly.
Promote the positive.
One of the best and most important things that a parent can do is to compliment their child on how they look. While parents sometimes tease their children, teasing about your child’s size or body shape could negatively affect your child’s self-esteem. Instead, focus on the positives. Let your child show you what they can do, and let them know how proud you are of their accomplishments. Not every child is going to be an athlete, but be proud of their abilities and achievements.
Remember that your child looks up to you. The best thing you can do is to lead by example. Choose kinder words to talk about your body. Be active with your kids. Go for a walk around the neighborhood, or play catch in the front yard. These small steps could set your child on a life path that will make them more self-confident.
Dr. Lori Cook specializes in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She completed her medical training at Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans, Louisiana. She is board certified in pediatrics with the American Board of Pediatrics and is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Cook was born and raised in Baton Rouge, LA. In her personal time, she enjoys spending time with her family and jogging.