Simple Ways to Teach Positive Body Image to Your Kids
By Trishia Van Orden
Have you ever wondered why children become more and more obsessed with their bodies as they age? From infancy, children explore their bodies trying to understand what it is and how it works. As kids age, they start to notice how they look, feel, and act, sometimes comparing themselves to others. They start to develop a body image that is all their own.
Our body image is how we see ourselves. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself, what do you see? The image that you created in your mind is your body image. You can have a positive healthy body image or a negative damaging one, depending on how you see yourself. This view of self is influenced by many factors including; media, family and friend’s, personal expectations, and past experiences. Each thing that we have experienced in our life has somehow affected how we see ourselves.
As parents in this digital age we watch our children grow, we see that they too take in messages from external sources which tell them how they should look, act, and think. Sometimes these sources are parents and sometimes they can be media. It is important as parents to ensure that our children understand the information fed to them every day. Recent studies have shown that people who identify with characters in the media–for the purposes of this article we will define media as TV, magazines, videogames, or online– tend to have a negative body image. (Beth Teresa Bell, 2011) Developing a negative body image can lead to several problems including eating disorders, unhealthy exercise habits, depression, behavioral problems, and unhealthy understanding of sex . (Morry & Staska, 2001) (K.A. Earles, 2002)
Parents are the link to helping children see through unhealthy messages and helping them see what an amazing thing a body is. Some ways that you can help your child develop a good body image is;
- Be the example: Provide your children with an example of someone who loves their body and all the things that it can do. Ask yourself what you say about your body or physical traits when your child is around?
- Help them see their true beauty: Remind children that they are amazing the way they are. Help them see their wonderful talents, skills, and personality. Beauty is never just skin deep.
- Sincerely compliment your child: Provide your child with lots of positive feedback on how they look, think, act, and behave.
- Help your child develop positive affirmations that they can remind themselves of when they are down (e.g. I am smart. I am creative etc.)
- Start the morning by reminding your child who they are and what they stand for.
- Help your child develop a good understanding of the media–media literacy. Teach them to be skeptical of what they see and hear in the media, especially when it comes to images. (This can be done by teaching them media literacy and digital citizenship.)
- Teach your child about their body and how it works. Help them realize how special their body really is no matter how it looks.
As you work with you child on these skills they will learn how to better understand their bodies and the wonderful things that it does. Developing a positive body image will help them as they enter school and grow to be teenagers. They will be better aware of who they are and what they really can do.
For more ideas on how to help your child develop a strong body image and to talk to your child about their bodies check out our books 30 Days to A Stronger Child and 30 Days of Sex Talks. Also, check out our website and new children’s books for more information on media literacy and digital citizenship.
Trishia Van Orden graduated from Brigham Young University, Idaho with a BS in Marriage and Family Studies. She has an amazing husband and two children, with one on the way. Her passions include research and helping families! She wants to be a family life educator and family therapist someday!
Beth Teresa Bell, H. D. (2011, April 15). Does media type matter? the role of identification in adolescent girls’ media consumption and the impact of different thin-ideal media on body image. Sex Roles, 478-490. doi:DOI 10.1007/s11199-011-9964-x
K.A. Earles, R. A. (2002, Sep). Media influences on children and adolescents: Violence and sex. Journal of the National Medical Association, 94(4), 797-801.
Morry, M. M., & Staska, S. L. (2001, October). Magazine exposure: internalization, self-objectification, eating attitudes and body satisfaction in male and female university students. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science; 269.
Other helpful resources: