Kids and Body Image
Dr. Cadieux is a child psychologist and this week's guest blogger.
Media portrayals of unrealistic or unhealthy body images, sometimes through use of computer technology to make a model look thinner or improve "flaws" is bombarding our children with ideas of how their bodies should be.
Children and adolescents definitely pick up on these messages. Kids of all ages and sizes can adopt a negative body image and believe they must strive to make their bodies "perfect." It's also important to recognize that increasingly more and more boys are having issues with body image. And, of course, peer pressure continues to plays a significant role in how your child views his or her body.
I'm going to share some good news in a moment, but for now, here are some sobering statistics:
- Half of all girls and a third of all boys use unhealthy weight management strategies
- 81% of 10-year-olds report that they are afraid of being fat
- 46% of 9-11 year olds are "sometimes" or "very often" on diets
But, before you become too discouraged, consider this: as a parent, you hold an enormous influence over your child, and therefore, your own attitude towards weight and body image will likely be the greatest influence on your child's beliefs about these topics. You can make a difference. That's important to remember.
That said, we all know most children don't want to be told what to do-and they usually listen best when we think they aren't listening. That's why, instead of lecturing your child, one of the best ways to help your child maintain a positive body image is to be aware of what you say about yourself. If you're a mother, do you sometimes make negative remarks about your own body and say you look or feel fat or need to lose weight? If you do (and 80% of all women report that they are dissatisfied with their bodies, so it's likely you've got company), just keep in mind that your child is more likely to take on a negative view of his or her own body, too.
Of course, I also hope it goes without saying that any negative comment a parent makes about his or her child's body, or other people's bodies, can have a negative impact on the child. So, even if a child is overweight, a parent should never use negative comments to try to "help" the child to lose weight.
Here are some ways you can encourage a positive body image in your child:
- Be accepting of your own and others' bodies
- Pursue your own individual and social activities, try new things and encourage your child to do the same
- Offer positive comments to your child about their characteristics, abilities, efforts
- Focus on effort and improvement in yourself and child, not perfection
- Pick up a magazine, and talk about and challenge messages being sent through the advertisements
- Eat healthy, and limit, but do not eliminate low-nutrient "junk" foods
- Be physically active with your child
Remember: Your attitudes and behaviors are probably the biggest factor in how your child will view his or her own body. Make sure your child knows that while maintaining your health is important, body shape or size does not determine happiness, self-worth or success. When you send your child these positive messages, everyone wins.
- Dr. Cadieux