We asked Julie Holland, certified eating disorders specialist from the Eating Recovery Center, an international centre for eating disorders recovery, for her insight into how to help ensure kids feel good about their bodies.
The first thing parents can do to help children develop and maintain a positive body image is to set a good example. "Modelling healthy attitudes and behaviours related to food, eating and body image is an important consideration for parents," affirms Holland. If you want to instill body confidence in your kids, she advises showing them your own self-confidence. "Help your kids cultivate healthy attitudes toward food, body image and weight by striving to be positive role models, silencing "fat talk" and other negative messages, especially about yourself but also related to others." Anytime you get the urge to complain about your weight or looks in front of your children, say something positive instead. Everything you say and do can influence their future beliefs about themselves.
Making sure your kids grow up with body confidence means avoiding bringing attention to how they look or how much they weigh. "Talk to your kids about what it means to be healthy, and urge them to not compare themselves to others or to an ideal reference weight or body size," Holland says. She urges parents to avoid focusing on how their children look, because we all come in different shapes and sizes. Additionally, she recommends that when talking to your children about their bodies, stress the importance of what their bodies can do for them, such as run, stretch, climb, swim, etc., rather than how it looks.
Life is not all about looks, height or weight, and what's on the outside should never be the basis for confidence. Help kids move beyond what's in the mirror (or what they perceive to be in the mirror) by encouraging them to concentrate on their skills or interests to help them develop confidence, advises Holland. "Parental support and encouragement can be a powerful motivator for helping kids to develop confidence in various parts of their lives and can help ward off insecurities related to body size, shape or weight," she explains.
Another step parents can take toward helping kids build body confidence is to model healthy attitudes and behaviours to ensure their children live a healthy lifestyle. This includes providing a nutritious, well-balanced diet without labelling foods as "good" or "bad" or restricting entire food groups, says Holland. She also stresses the importance of ensuring your kids have the opportunity to get plenty of regular exercise, including sports, playing outside or getting active as a family. "Cook nutritious meals with them, and organize family outings that involve physical activity."
"Children who are struggling with body image issues don't feel good about themselves despite how perfectionistic or accomplished they may be," notes Holland. When this is the case, she recommends focusing on a child's self-esteem and sense of self, not their accomplishments or how they look. She explains that this can help lay a critical foundation for avoiding eating disorders and set the stage for positive body image in teenage years and beyond.
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