People don’t just decide to hate their bodies—they learn this from society. In today’s world, children have more access to social media, blogs, and websites, and research indicates that this results in increasing amounts of eating disorders, negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and self-hatred. According to the National Association of Eating Disorders, 81% of 10 year-olds are fearful of being fat. In fact, children as young as 7 years old are suffering from eating disorders. Babies and young children look in the mirror constantly because they LOVE how they look and are fascinated by the things their bodies can do! When did it become ok for children to stop loving their bodies? As a parent, caregiver, or anyone who is working with children…we can all help to raise kids who love themselves and teach them to be body positive. Here are some things you can do:
- Model a Positive Attitude towards your OWN Body & Others.
- Parents who complain about their appearance and weight, even casually, make a big impact on how children view their own bodies. Verbalize loving your own body, and avoid talking negatively about your appearance/ weight/ size in front of your children. When you put down your own body in front of your kids, you are giving your kids the message that it is ok to not like themselves. We want our kids to grow to love every part of themselves! Avoid making statements such as, “Gosh, I have gained so much weight”, or “I was skinny like you when I was a kid, what happened to me?” Instead make positive comments such as, “I feel healthy and happy today!”
- Look around your home and ask yourself if the products, images, and objects you have in your home model body positivity. Do you have diet products lying around? Scales in the bathrooms? Magazines or books about dieting or getting your dream body? Kids pick up on these things.
- If you are a parent and want to diet, that is completely ok! Modeling a balanced diet and moderate exercise in front of your children is healthy and can help them learn how to nourish their own bodies. If you are watching your weight and what you eat, avoid putting negative labels on food, e.g., “I can’t eat that ice cream, it will make me fat.” Instead, model portion control and eating a variety of food (even those you may consider a “treat”) in moderation. If you are struggling to model balanced eating, it may be beneficial to seek help from a nutritionist or a therapist.
- Compliment Inner Traits.
- Rather than complimenting others on their outer appearance, compliment your child and others on their behaviors, talents, and inner traits. For example, instead of saying “Your friend is so cute.” say, “Your friend was so kind when she let you borrow her bike.”
- When watching TV with your kids, ask them questions to promote empathy. If your child is watching a TV show and a character makes fun of another character’s appearance, ask “How do you think that made the other person feel when he called her ugly?” By promoting empathy, you are helping your child understand how hurtful negative and judgmental comments may feel to others. You are also helping your child to regulate their emotional responses that they have with others.
- Instead of commenting to your child on how slim they may be (such as, “You boys are so lucky to be thin.”), make statements such as, “Your strong body allows you to do so many things like play football.”
- Be Open with your Child and Talk it Out.
- If you notice your child talking negatively about their body or if you notice them judging their bodies nonverbally (staring at self in the mirror, standing on the scale excessively, etc.), take this as an opportunity to talk with your child about how they are feeling and teach body positivity in the process.
- First, LISTEN to your child’s feelings and validate, validate, validate. If your child says to you, “I feel fat,” or “I’m so ugly,” your first instinct may be to fix what they are saying. For example, many parents, trying to remind their children of how much they love them, say things like, “You aren’t fat!” or “You are perfect!” Although your child’s statements may seem untrue to you, they may seem true and real to your child. For this reason, it’s important to validate their statements and let them know you understand how they are feeling. Validating their statement does not mean agreeing. For example, you might say, “I understand you are feeling really upset right now.” Validating their feelings helps them know that they can talk to you about how they feel, even when they feel negative about their looks.
Parents and all caregivers, you can help address this issue and raise kids that are body positive!
For more information, the following post summaries current research in this area and provides practical suggestions: http://binge-on-this.com/2016/02/21/neda-week-2016-day-one-eating-disorder-statistics/