We all want our kids to be happy – and a big part of achieving that happiness is finding happiness with themselves. As our social media feeds fill up with stories of bullying and peer shaming, it’s hard not to feel like we’re fighting for the unattainable. So how can parents help their children to attain a healthy body image in spite of the constant negativity in this world?
For starters, realize that it isn’t just about body image: it’s about helping them to have a healthy self image as a whole. Help them to understand that they are more than just their physical self. Yes, they have a body and need to take care of it – but they are also a soul, full of potential with hobbies and talents and goals. Help them to define those goals and map a plan to achieve them. Come back and discuss them – not in a business-like manner, but as a coach and friend. Attaining their goals and knowing that they have a true supporter interested not in just whether they check off that checkbox, but how they are doing on their journey towards it, goes a long way in building confidence and a sense of self worth.
Set a good example. Make a point to stay active yourself – but make sure that you’re balanced and not obsessive: constantly talking about your weight will only build the idea in your child’s mind that the number on the scale is a top priority. Beyond that, don’t put yourself down – your children are listening and form their own understanding of body image and how they should value and critique themselves from you. Beyond that, try not to comment on the physical – on them, yourself, or others. It is perfectly welcome – and encouraged – to pay compliments, but know that there is a difference between complimenting someone for looking particularly nice and complimenting certain attributes. Don’t comment on weight – good or bad. Don’t mention that someone walking in the mall is so thin or that the player on the other team has perfect “____.” Your child hears that you wish they were that way.
Your kids are watching and listening, and they are taking note of what you do and what you say – about them, yourself, and others. Think not just about what you say in words, but how your child will relate it to and apply it to themselves.
Finally, help them build confidence. Not based on physical image, but on achievements elsewhere. Take note of school achievements – not just for great grades, but for improvements. Take note when they achieve a new skill in their sport of choice. Notice how they play with friends and let them know how much you appreciate their kindness or compassion. And let them know that you notice. They may seem bashful or shy at first, but those positive comments will stick with them and build them up over time.
Building a positive body image comes from building a positive image as a whole. Help your child love who they are and that physical piece becomes one small part of their whole.