This is another guest post from Dietetic Intern, Ruthann Sampson, MS. I’ve been seeing more and more families with children that struggle with their body image. It’s easy to make a comment with good intentions, but we often don’t realize the impact that our comments have. I like Ruthann’s suggestion of putting the focus on having healthy habits instead of weight or appearance.
When it comes to body image your child may be getting ideas of how they view themselves from you, the parent. You are the adult role model for how to engage in positive talk about appearances. By the same token, when you engage in negative talk about yours or others’ bodies, you may be causing your child to do the same.
As the saying goes, actions can speak louder than words. You need to be wary of your actions and how they may be impacting your child’s view on a healthy body image. Seeing their parent crash dieting or exercising for weight loss may make a child associate these behaviors with attaining an idealized appearance. The same concepts apply if you are concerned about your child’s weight. Don’t criticize their weight directly. Instead, encourage healthier habits by turning a balanced diet and exercise into a fun family activity for good health, not for looks.
Your words about the appearance of yourself and others have just as big of an impact as your actions. In a constant media onslaught of what the “ideal” look should be, your child needs for you to be accepting of all body types. Even playful teasing with words like “husky” or “fluffy” may be seriously damaging to the way children views themselves or others. Instead, try to compliment your child on a regular basis. Focus on positive language, not just about their appearance (you’re so handsome), but also about their intelligence (you’re getting really good at multiplication) and physical abilities (look how fast you can run). Follow these same principles in your choice of role models. Instead of idealizing supermodels, speak positively with your child about national leaders, scientists, and individuals whose achievements have nothing to do with the way they look (Jane Goodall is my go-to favorite role model for children).
Furthermore, when speaking about your own body, avoid negativity. For example, instead of complaining about having large thighs, say that they are big and strong for hiking and picking up kids. Parent-child interactions should serve as a safe haven from negative body judgment. Keep it upbeat, keep it non-judgmental, and watch as your child’s opinion of themselves stays positive for the long term.