Teaching Your Child About Positive Body Image – Girls and Boys!
Canadian Eating Disorder Awareness Week, encouraging us to focus on raising children with healthy body images.
Do you know any adult who is perfectly happy with his/her body? It seems as though everyone wants to lose weight, gain weight, be more toned, or have bigger muscles. Ultimately, we are all human and part of the human condition is accepting and loving ourselves for who we are and realizing that “perfection” (from the ego’s perspective) is unattainable. In fact, many people have found that when they focus on liking themselves and managing their stress through breathing, yoga, exercise etc. instead of finding comfort in food, that they naturally lose weight.
The Importance of Teaching Our Children About Positive Body Image
If you don’t teach your child about a positive body image, peers, movies, advertisements and TV will. Media can negatively influence your child’s values. Most media promotes unrealistic images, beliefs, and attitudes which can lead to your children feeling badly about themselves. Research has shown that by age four, children want to be thin! It is never too early to start teaching your child about positive body image.
Check out this two minute Dove You Tube video which creates awareness about all the embellishments that go into producing the “perfect” model image:
What Can We Do As Parents to Promote Positive Body Image?
- Model healthy behaviours for your children – avoid fad dieting and any mention of the words “diet” or “fattening”. Engage in enjoyable physical activity without going to extremes, model healthy (but not perfect) eating patterns and food choices. In moderation, allow your child some chips, chocolate, and ice-cream in order that they don’t crave it later on.
- Make healthy choices accessible in your home – make time to eat together on a regular basis and have fun cooking together and eating meals together. Make healthy snacks easy to access, make physical activity a part of your regular schedule and limit “screen” time (T.V./computer/video games).
- Focus on overall health versus weight-loss – encourage your child to adopt healthy behaviours without focussing on an “ideal” weight. Help your children to learn about themselves, and their qualities, let them know that looks are only a part of who they are.
- Provide a supportive home environment – provide unconditional love and let your child know it, be there to listen and provide support if your child discusses weight issues. If your child is “feeling fat”, ask more, “fat” is not a feeling but your child will probably be struggling with some negative feelings. Find out how your child might be experiencing feelings of inadequacy or not feeling “good enough”.
- Teach your children that we all come in different shapes and sizes – media make fake images and people come in all shapes and sizes. For females weight gain during puberty is normal. Teach your child about growth spurts. Avoid making weight-related comments about oneself or others and teach that everyone deserves respect, regardless of size. Compliment your friends and family on their wonderful personalities, successes or accomplishments rather than on their weight and shape.
- Do not use food as a reward or punishment – food should not be associated with love and acceptance. This may encourage children to develop habits of seeking out food for comfort or self-punishment.
- Teach children to look at advertisements using critical thinking. Teach them to analyze ads and figure out what message the marketing company is trying to convey and what may not be true. How do advertisements and certain toys reinforce body stereotypes?
- Encourage children to take responsibility for their own well-being. Teach them to listen to their own bodies – to know when they’re hungry and when they’re full. Don’t insist that they eat everything on their plate.
- Teach stress management skills. Encourage children to engage in cardio exercise or breathing based exercise such as yoga, martial arts, or to practice breathing slowly and deeply when they are stressed.
- Teach children that their self-worth is not related to how they look. Emphasize their talents and qualities. Don’t focus on their physical appearance.
These tips are important for boys as well as girls. Although more girls have disordered eating, there are many boys who also have disordered eating. Many boys feel self-conscious about their weight or bodies and some engage in dangerous steroid use. Be aware that there are dangerous Pro-Anorexia websites on the internet which are harmful and created by people with eating disorders.
Let’s teach our children to love themselves for who they are. For more information on eating disorders and positive body image go to www.nedic.ca
Have a healthy week!
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