The Importance of Healthy Body Image in Childhood
Did you know that children as young as 5-6 can develop a distorted view of their bodies? In later years, teens with negative self-image are more likely to develop mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Young children and teens with distorted perceptions about their body are likely to engage in unsafe weight-loss behavior. They’re also likely to continue this pattern of behavior and turn it into a habit later in life.
Young kids tend to model their parents’ behaviors and may develop negative body image perceptions as a result of how their parents feel and speak about themselves or others.
Parents who have a negative view of themselves and their bodies and who openly criticize their own appearances may influence their children to model their behaviors.
If you as a parent are constantly berating yourself for overeating, eating poorly, or being unable to lose weight, these comments imprint upon your children. Children notice when parents put themselves or others down.
Research shows that young children and teens learn from those around them — parents included — that thinness is a goal to be achieved and that carrying extra pounds should be avoided.
A 2017 study published in the journal Psychological Science demonstrated that kids who were believed to be overweight by their parents were more likely to view themselves negatively and experience higher rates of weight gain.
While parents can certainly use some of the suggestions here to foster an atmosphere of body positivity and self-acceptance, the burden is not only on them. Many outside influences have an impact on children’s and teens’ body images, including the media, pop culture, and peers.
In the face of outside influences, parents who offer a nurturing and supportive home environment have the upper hand.
Tips for Encouraging Body Positivity
How can parents prevent their children from developing body image issues like dysmorphia? Here are a few helpful tips:
• Teach young children to be critical of the images they are exposed to online and in the media, says Virginia Ramseyer Winter, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri who studies body image and how it relates to women’s health.
• Foster a positive relationship with food. A 2019 study from the University of Missouri found that teens in families that ate breakfast together had higher instances of positive body images. Evidence has shown that eating regular meals together as a family may curtail the development of disordered eating.
• Avoid talk of diet and weight loss. Encouragement of weight-loss focused activities may backfire and lead to greater dissatisfaction with regard to appearance.
• Don’t associate healthy with thinness or losing weight. Healthy pursuits like physical exercise should not be talked about or encouraged within the context of diet-culture.
• Applaud your child for positive attributes that have nothing to do with appearance or weight. Don’t assign value to looks.
• Don’t comment on other people’s body weight or appearance, even if those people are characters in a TV show.
Written by: Steph Coelho