Raising Kids

Topic: 4 Tips For Raising Kids In A Body-Positive Environment

We want our kids to see their bodies as we have since day one: beautiful, strong, and amazing. But the sad truth is, from a startlingly young age, kids begin to have less-than-positive attitudes about their bodies. (A staggering report found that more than half of girls and one-third of boys ages 6 to 8 feel their ideal body is thinner than its current size.) Whether it’s media exposure, peer influence, or messages they’re receiving at home, kids develop their body image sensibilities from a range of factors, says Tori Cordiano, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the director of research at the Laurel School Center for Research on Girls in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Ideally, parents can become the loudest and most trusted voice and help their children develop a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and their body image. “That’s the essence of body positivity,” says Cordiano, “It’s the acceptance and celebration of all types of bodies, and the celebration of your body’s strengths and abilities, as well as how it looks.”

Try these practices to teach your child good habits and a body-positive mindset from a young age.

1. Model healthy behaviors

How you eat and how you talk about your body (or the bodies of others) has more of an effect than you might think—regardless of how old your kids are. “They really do see and take in every single thing,” notes Cordiano. Eat healthy meals together and do fun physical activities as a family, focusing on the pleasure of moving your bodies and becoming stronger—not on losing weight. One study found that teens were more likely to diet, binge eat, and use unhealthy weight-control methods if their parents gave too many weight-focused messages about food—e.g., “Yikes, that dessert has a LOT of calories!” Instead, make a positive impression by placing an emphasis on overall health, rather than hitting a certain number on the scale or achieving a particular look.

2. Point out photo manipulation and body stereotypes

All of the visuals your kids consume—including video games, TV shows, and social media—contributes to their overall media “diet,” says Cordiano. This can influence everything from how they eat to how they feel. Too often, what kids see in the media encompasses a narrow view of what’s considered “normal,” which can cause them to have doubts about their own appearance. In fact, according to The Selfie Talk, a new initiative from The Dove Self-Esteem Project, 80 percent of girls say they compare the way they look to other people on social media.

With your older kids, discuss how some advertisements and social media images are altered or filtered to make skin look smoother, make people appear taller or thinner, and more. You can turn it into a game. (i.e. Can you spot the Photoshop?!) “Teenagers do not like to be manipulated, so use that to your advantage,” says Cordiano. “Ask them to think critically about how companies may be using images in targeted ways.”

You can also add some “counter-programming” whenever you get the chance, suggests Cordiano. “That can mean something as simple as oh-so-casually leaving a catalog that shows diverse, size-inclusive models on the coffee table where they can see it.”

Topic Discussed: 4 Tips For Raising Kids In A Body-Positive Environment

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