How to Foster a Healthy Body Image in Your Child

How to Foster a Healthy Body Image in Your Child

Mom & Young Daughter in identical yoga posesHow parents feel about their physical appearance is one of the most important factors in determining a child’s self-image. That’s why fostering a healthy body image in your child is so important.

Parents who fret about the way they look, are always on a diet (or talking about how they need to be on one), or who talk negatively about their appearance, teach their children that this is how adults are supposed to think and feel about themselves and that a perfect physical appearance is the goal.

Remember that a well rounded healthy lifestyle incorporates both physical AND mental health. So while you’re choosing healthy foods or engaging in physical activity, be sure you are also nourishing and exercising your mind with positive thinking and lots of self-love!

Here are some ways you can prioritize healthy habits for your kids without focusing on physical appearance:

African American family gathered around the kitchen counter, preparing a healthy mealEliminate talk about “fat” and “thin.”

Instead, focus on personal health and recognize that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

Avoid “dieting” talk.

Focus your language on being a family that eats healthy.

Model healthy habits for your children as part of your everyday routine.

Let them “catch” you snacking on colorful fresh fruits and veggies before dinner or going through your workout routine in the middle of the living room (be prepared for any giggles that may ensue). Invite them to join you!

Buy each member of the family his or her own flashy water bottle.

Encourage them to drink as much ice cold water as they want throughout the day and even take it to bed with them – but no juice, pop or sweetened beverages allowed in the water bottles!

Routinely engage in family-friendly physical activity together.

Try hiking, biking, swimming, a game of family tag, or even just a walk around the neighborhood.

Minimize compliments about physical appearance.

Instead of complimenting your child on his or her appearance (i.e. “You’re so beautiful!” “I remember when I was as thin as you!”), try to find more ways to call attention to non-physical attributes – “I love the way you draw,”; “Your hugs are the best;” “Watching you dance always makes me smile.”

Eliminate criticisms about physical appearance.

Avoid the urge to critique your child’s hairstyle, choice of clothes, and certainly their body. Even lighthearted, seemingly offhand comments such as, “You’re too skinny!”, “Look at that round tummy!” or “You tower over your friends!”, can leave a kid who may never had considered their physical appearance before now feeling self-conscious, bewildered and doubtful about him or herself.

As you learn to love and take care of your body, your child will be learning how he or she should think and feel about their own. Remember, you are your child’s first teacher, and you want them to learn to love the person he or she was created to be – mind, spirit and body

Jean Holthaus, LISW is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and clinic manager at the Pine Rest Pella Clinic. She earned a BA in Elementary Education from the University of Northern Iowa and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Iowa in 1995.

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