Help Your Child Develop a Healthy Body Image

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healthy body image

Every parent wants to raise a child who feels comfortable in his or her own skin. A key to achieving this is fostering a healthy body image.  A positive body image means that you have a realistic perception of how your body looks and accept and appreciate your natural body shape.

Believe it or not, problems with body image can begin as early as the preschool years. The good news is that you can do a lot to help your child develop a positive body image from a very young age. Here is how:

Be a Role Model

Consider the message your child may receive if you’re always talking  negatively about your own features or if you are speaking regularly about stringent dieting and putting yourself through grueling workouts in an effort to change your appearance. Your child may begin to wonder whether he or she should be doing the same things. Instead, talk about and treat your own body exactly how you’d like your child to talk about and treat his or hers.

Emphasize Health

In today’s world, there’s a lot of focus on weight, calories and dieting. You can change this conversation. “Rather than talking about weight, emphasize health, physical fitness and good nutrition, and the benefits they provide to your child,” advises Carolyn Ievers-Landis, PhD, CBSM, a licensed clinical psychologist at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s. “For example, encourage your child to eat a tasty, nutritious meal so that he or she will have plenty of energy to play, or for older children to get homework done when also engaged in extracurricular school sports or clubs.”

Foster a Love for Physical Activity

Help your child discover that being active is about having fun. Support your child’s interests in any physical activity that he or she enjoys, even if it’s different from what you’d choose. For some children, this may be soccer or hockey.  Others may choose dance or karate. And still other children may enjoy walking or riding their bikes around the neighborhood. Allow your child to try many different activities until he or she finds those that feel like a fun and natural fit.

Talk About It

It’s nearly impossible to avoid images of “perfect-looking” bodies in the media. Let your child know that these images are often retouched or changed in different ways to appear that way and they don’t represent the wide range of shapes and sizes that bodies

“If you hear your child talking negatively about his or her own body, start a conversation about why your child feels that way. Talk about what you see that makes your child special," Dr. Ievers-Landis says. Ask your child what features he/she really particularly likes about his/her appearance (e.g., eye color, hair, etc.) and then also emphasize positive aspects of your child to focus on that are not about appearance (e.g., being artistic, being kind to animals).”

It’s also important to find out if your child is being bullied or teased about his or her appearance at school, in the neighborhood or by other family members. Your child should know that you do not find this acceptable, and you will help your child find ways to address these issues. If concerns about body image continue, seek help from your child’s pediatrician, who might  suggest a consult with a specialist in this area, such as a licensed professional counselor, social worker or psychologist.

RELATED LINKS

UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital’s dedicated team of more than 1,300 pediatric specialists uses the most advanced treatments and latest innovations to deliver the complete range of pediatric specialty services for 750,000 patient encounters each year. Learn more about UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital or find a pediatrician close to home.

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