Little kids love their bodies. From sucking on toes to prancing around as toddlers in tutus, kids are inherently comfortable in their own skin, doing their own thing. But somewhere between tutus and becoming teenagers, kids can often feel conflicted about how they look. Media ads often reinforce unhealthy stereotypes and body image examples that can make a deep impression on young minds. So, how do we as parents help kids navigate these feelings, and understand that their bodies are beautiful? The first step is to tune in to where your kid is on this journey, and join her as she engages with herself and the world. Here are our 5 best tips for helping your child love her body:
1. Make Food Normal
Many a food battle starts when a well-intending mama gets upset over her kid's food choices. It's one thing when the fight is about broccoli; it's another story altogether when the battle is about eating at all. So do your whole family a favor and relax, relax, relax about food when your kids are little. Then, do your best to maintain a low-key approach as kids grow and taste buds flex. Backing off might mean you don't get as many veggies into their growing bodies as you'd like. But are they getting lots of options for healthy fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins? Do they get to make some food choices themselves, maybe even help in the cooking? Are meals a positive experience in your family, or is their arguing or a constant disruption with cell phones or TV? Making meals and food enjoyable is a good place to start when working on building lifelong healthy relationships with food.
2. Make Exercise Normal
Do your kids get enough exercise, or are they on screens most of the day? In this golden age of technology, it's super easy to allow just one more episode, just a few more minutes of video gaming until the afternoon or evening is shot and nobody has gotten out and moved their bodies. But movement is key to a child's self-esteem. For one, they will feel great for the exercise itself, whether it's a walk, a bike ride, or batting practice. But they will also take pride in being part of a sport or a regular regimen. Make it more worthwhile and join them in an activity. You + exercise + your kid = an inexpensive one-on-one with a kick (literally? Maybe!)!
3. Filter Media
We know how much advertising we take in every day, but how is this affecting our kids? Especially when kids are younger, try to keep media exposure to a minimum. We live in the most marketed-to culture in history. The companies designing commercial messages are trying to sell a product, so they're not too concerned with how their delivery may affect your child's view of themselves.
Be mindful about the images your kids see whether they're browsing your fashion magazines or waiting to watch the next YouTube video. Using services and apps designed to limit suggestive images should also be part of your crusade to build positive body image and feelings, as well as safety from pornography exposure and adult-oriented online content.
4. Keep Communication Open
Inevitably, you'll turn the TV on to a woman in a low-cut shirt or microscopic bathing suit while your young boys are sitting on the couch beside you eating popcorn. Take a minute to talk to them about these images. Ask questions like: how do you think she feels about herself? What does the way she's dressed say to other people? (Adjust your approach and tone for their ages and maturity).
When your kids have questions about their own bodies, answer honestly and kindly, encouraging them to come to you with questions and concerns. Their willingness to come to you will be a reflection of your relationship as a whole, so do what you can to keep it loving and unconditional. They will trust you, and then they will trust what you tell them about their bodies. And do speak to them about themselves! You are still their biggest influence. Let them know when they look nice, make an effort with a new outfit or hairstyle, and begin to develop during puberty. Your voice matters.
5. Get Over Yourself
We all look through a lens of our own making. Check yours and see where your own body image issues lie, especially if you've dealt with eating disorders or body shame. You don't have to communicate these things to your kids, even if they are still present in your own life. If they're present, why not take this time when you have kids at home to work on yourself, too? Get some counseling or talk to a friend. YOU are beautiful and worthwhile, just like your kiddos! Be intentional about the way you talk about your own body, remembering small ears are hearing your every word.
Body image is super important as your kids grow. You CAN be a the main voice speaking them into the best versions of themselves. What a beautiful privilege!