When you were young, do you remember worrying about how much you weighed or what size you wore? Probably not, but these days those worries are all too common.
A 2015 study found that kids as young as age 5 are now expressing concerns about their body — concerns that previously didn’t usually crop up until the teen years or beyond. The research also found that by age 7, one in four kids has followed some sort of diet.
These revelations are obviously troubling, but what can parents do to help their children develop a positive body image, one that sticks with them as they age?
Read on for a few suggestions.
- Be a positive role model. Even when you think your little ones aren’t listening — they probably are. We’ve all had moments as adults where we’ve critiqued our bodies or what we’re eating.
When you do this around your kids, though, they pick up on your comments. That’s why it’s particularly important to model what you’d like to see in them.
Talk about what you appreciate about your body. Avoid commenting on what other people look like. Model healthy lifestyle behaviors like a balanced diet and regular exercise, but emphasize to your kids that those habits are about health, not size.
- Help kids wade through societal expectations. The body images seen on TV and in advertisements often represent the minority, rather than the norm. It’s important for kids to truly see and understand that there are a wide variety of body sizes and shapes — and that none is better than the other.
Keep an eye on what images your children are seeing in the world around them. Ask what’s happening with their friends and at school.
You can’t prevent your kids from ever seeing unrealistic body types on TV. But you can surround them with programs that show a wide range of body types and diversity and that challenge stereotypes in general, including those about gender and abilities.
- Remember that this isn’t just an issue with girls. Boys are also exposed to unrealistic body images and stereotypes, beginning at a young age.
Pay attention to the things your son does and says about his body. Listen for any signs of negative body talk, and counteract them with positive discussion about maintaining good health through lifestyle habits.
- Keep a careful eye on social media. When’s the last time you negatively compared yourself with a photo you saw on Instagram? It probably wasn’t that long ago.
Kids aren’t immune from that type of comparison. In addition, social media provides opportunities to interact with others — which can have both positive and negative effects on body image.
Monitor your kids’ social media activity, both by keeping an eye on their pages and by asking them regularly how things are going. Suggest taking time away from social media when things get dramatic.
Has your child developed a negative body image? Talk with your pediatrician about how to help change that perception. If you don’t have a pediatrician, find one here.