One Important Way to Promote Positive Body Image in Kids

One Important Way to Promote Positive Body Image in Kids

Parents don’t always realize how words and actions affect their child’s self-image.

By Betsy Voreacos

By no stretch of the imagination was I ever a thin person. Sure, I was always a little bit chunkier than my kindergarten counterparts, a little shapelier than my pre-pubescent buddies, and I always wore a larger softball uniform than my high school teammates. But I was certainly not obese. Though I may as well have been. Because in my mind, I was massive.

When we’re growing up, we don’t stop to process the whys and hows of what we are becoming. When we look back, years later, we often have the clarity to understand how our thoughts and self-perceptions were formed.

As a mother myself, I would never blame my parents for my inner demons. I know that no parent purposely promotes negativity in their child. But, I also know that sometimes we forget that everything we say and do is filed away in our children’s psyches and is hugely influential on their self-esteem and body image.

“As a parent, you may be promoting ideas about negative body image without meaning to just based on the way you talk about your [own] body and appearance,” explains Stephanie O’Leary, PsyD., a clinical psychologist and author of Parenting in the Real World. “Even when your child appears to be actively ignoring you, you are always in the spotlight and kids copy parents when it comes to thought patterns, habits, and even self-judgement.”

We often forget that direct criticism is not the only way to negatively impact a child. Seemingly innocuous remarks we make about ourselves can be just as harmful.

“If you find yourself making comments about looking fat, bloated, old, or otherwise undesirable, you set the stage for your child to engage in those same self-judgements,” says O’Leary.

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One way to keep yourself in check is to edit your commentary by not saying anything about yourself that you wouldn’t say about your child, she suggests. Also, try shifting the focus from negative to positive. Instead of harping on how undesirable you look or how bad you feel, talk about how energized you are when you get back from a walk or how well-rested you feel after getting a good night’s sleep. Not only does this put a positive spin on things, but it helps your child understand how actions and activities lead to healthy living. This also teaches them to honor their bodies, regardless of their size or shape.

Easier said than done, right? We may be so used to beating ourselves up that we have to consciously work on changing the inner voice that’s telling us we’re not good enough, pretty enough, or thin enough.

“Put sticky notes on the mirror,” says Kathy Walsh, a parenting expert, educator, and mindfulness and meditation coach. “Write uplifting words and phrases. Be specific: ‘I love my big brown eyes.’”

Once you’ve put this method into practice for yourself, Walsh suggests doing the same thing with your child. Look into a mirror, side-by-side with your child and point out wonderful things about her, then writing those affirmations on sticky notes as well.

“What we focus on grows,” says Walsh. “Shedding light on the positive aspects of your child[ren] continues for many years to come. Believe in them even when they don’t believe in themselves.”

Our kids deserve to feel good about themselves, no matter what they look like. They should never judge their self-worth by a number on the scale or a physical imperfection. We have a long road ahead, but we can do it, one positive comment at a time.

Need more ideas for promoting a positive body image in your daughter? Help your growing girl keep her confidence growing, too with Always #LIKEAGIRL.

Betsy Voreacos lives with her family a stone’s throw from Manhattan. An overly involved mother of three active children, Betsy has always been acutely aware of her shortcomings as a parent, not to mention those of her children. A freelance writer and blogger, she documents her life in the brutally honest Old Minivans Die Hard.

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