I feel lucky. While my six-year-old daughters are very opinionated, self-talk about their bodies is mostly positive. They’re twins, and their body types are very different. But they are confident little beings, and I am proud of that fact. I wasn’t as confident as they are at their age. My wife and I are proactive and very conscious of what we say about their bodies to them.
We also will quickly squash any negative comments others might say or who comment about their weight. People have tried to “encourage” one of our daughters to eat less: “don’t you think that’s enough?” or “look at that outfit, it’s tight.” To her sister, they say the opposite: “eat more” or “don’t you want to grow strong and healthy?” As parents, we can only shield our kids so much from what the outside world says, but what we can control is what we teach our kids about their bodies (and ours): all body types should be loved, celebrated, and given the chance to be appreciated by others.
I’ve had my fair share of body image issues. I am still carrying baggage from childhood, and I don’t want my kids to carry around the same body burdens I have. When I became a parent, I vowed to not criticize or shame my kids in any way, like I was growing up for going back in the kitchen for seconds after dinner. It’s hard for me to undo years of body shaming, but it’s easy for me to love my kids for who they are no matter the body they are in. Each body is different and what matters most is that each body is a healthy one no matter the size.
Here are five tips you can use to help your child develop a healthy body image.
Remind them that representation matters.
We are constantly bombarded with images that glamorize the “thin” ideal, so make sure your child has access to models and public figures of all shapes and sizes. There are television shows out there that promote body acceptance and show various types of bodies. Common Sense Media has a few options for girls and a few options for boys to help promote body positivity.
Get real with your shit.
Let’s face it, you can’t teach your kid that big is beautiful, or that their skinny legs need to be embraced, or that their tummy can be as round as it is if you’re not loving the body you’re in. Kids can smell their parents’ shit (and I don’t just mean when you’re trying to get some privacy in the bathroom). Get real with your body image issues before you teach your kid about how to embrace their own.
Listen to what your kids are saying.
By the time we make it back home from school pick up, I’ve heard about my twins’ entire school day, even what went down at recess. It’s in these moments, when you listen to your kids, that you might get an opportunity to understand what they are thinking and feeling about their bodies and where insecurities might develop due to teasing, etc. You can encourage your kid to stick up for others who are being mean to other kids because of their bodies, or for you to arm your kids with the words to stand up for themselves.
Practice what you preach.
Yes, it’s true — you are your kid’s example, so be careful of your own words and body shaming of others (including yourself.)
Boost your kids’ self-worth.
You can do it! You’re capable! You’re a good friend! You’re a big help! Give your kids praise that will build their confidence up. You know how easily one’s self-esteem can be knocked down, so be consistent, point out what they do well, what their talents are, and keep the (non-physical) compliments coming.
We know we are our kids’ best advocates and number one teachers. They look to us for everything, and our words matter for their ears, their souls, and their overall development. If your kid thinks he or she is fat, embrace what they are saying with gentleness and remind them that whatever size they are, they are loved, and they are worthy, and they are beautiful.
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