You many have noticed that with all the talk of an “obesity epidemic” your children are more susceptible to being concerned about their bodies. Questions arise about being overweight, they worry about a little extra skin here or there, or they hear other kids talking about dieting and wonder if they need to diet too. Plus, if your children watch TV at all they are surely faced with weight loss commercials and stick-thin celebrities being honored for their emaciated frames. How can parents combat all these body image messages at home?
1. Parents need to be their children’s first and loudest cheerleaders. Children need to know that their parents’ love comes first and foremost and that a parents’ love has nothing to do with their body size.
2. Children need to be reminded constantly that their self-worth goes far beyond what they look like. Skinny or chubby your child is an exceptional person and you need to help them find that within themselves. Help them by pointing out the wonderful qualities that they possess…they’re smart, funny, caring, friendly, athletic, responsible.
3. It is damaging when children hear comments about other people’s bodies from their parents. When you comment on other people’s bodies, children learn that their parents set great store in body size and looks and kids start to become self-conscious. For instance, if Jenny hears you remarking about an exceptionally large person she may think there’s something wrong with being overweight. If Jenny then hits puberty and puts on a few pounds (as she should) and decides now is a good time to go on a restrictive diet, the diet could take over and turn into an eating disorder. Or if she hears you comment on a very fit and toned person, likewise she’ll assume that that body shape is highly valued and she will again try to either attain that body (possibly in unhealthy ways) or she may say, “Well, I’ll never look like her. May as well give up on being healthy right now.” Either way the message that Jenny is receiving is that bodies matter more than personality, morals, intelligence friends and family. Avoid these problems by keeping comments about other peoples’ bodies (good or bad) to yourself and, above all, do not make comments about your own body.
Having a good body image will not only protect your child from disordered eating it will also actually help them lose weight, IF they need to and WHEN they decide they are ready. People with more positive body images and higher self-esteem, even if they are overweight, are more likely to eat healthier foods, be more active and have better well-being overall. Feeling better about yourself helps you make good choices and stick to them.