How people feel about their body contributes to mental health and the amount of exposure our children get to the ‘perfect body’ via social media and television only adds to this impact.
When a young person doesn’t feel good about themselves or their body it can have an impact on their school work, their friendships and the sports/physical activity they engage in. While this may be more of a concern for upper primary school, children start to become aware of how they differ from others around eight years of age.
Your influence as a parent can help your child develop some perspective around how they feel about their body. If a parent is constantly dieting and looking at themselves critically then it’s likely the child will also learn to do this as well, particularly if they are also told they have inherited ‘mum or dad’s body shape’. As a parent it’s important that you understand that how you feel about your own body and the way you react to this is important as your children are learning from you.
If you are concerned about your child’s body shape it is very important to reinforce in actions and words that body weight or shape has nothing to do with how you feel about your child. Home needs to be a safe place where the child feels comfortable to talk or not talk about their weight. If you are concerned about your child’s weight it is best to seek assistance from a health professional.
Here are some tips for parents to assist their kids to develop a healthy body image:
- Avoid talking about or criticizing anyone’s appearance. The more you talk about ‘looks’ the more important you make them.
- Value yourself as a whole person not just a physical thing.
- Help your child to challenge beauty ideals portrayed in the media.
- Be active and move your body to be fit and strong not to get to an ‘ideal or better’ body.
- Focus on people’s strengths and talents rather than physical attributes.
- Avoid criticizing your child’s body shape and weight. Always be accepting and if you are making changes to your food intake ensure the changes are sensible and are made by the entire family not enforced on one person. Diets don’t work and they are a predictor or future weight gain and poor body image.
Lisa Renn, Accredited Practising Dietitian