Combating your child's negative body image!
You may well be surprised to learn that children as young as eight, begin to worry about their bodies and can start to try and control their weight. Often by the time they have reached their teenage years (especially girls) this has become almost an obsession that can lead to such eating disorders as anorexia nervosa and binge eating (bulimia) which came under the spotlight as Diana, Princess of Wales, suffered from this condition for years. Sadly, with both these medical conditions, the sufferer does not see themselves as slim, but worries that they are fat and restrict their calorie intake, so dramatically in a bid to be beautifully slim, that it can really impact their health.
It is never too early to startIt is important to nurture a positive body image in children and it is never too young to start. Children blossom on praise of any kind and regularly telling them how beautiful their body is or admiring a certain part of it can certainly bolster their self confidence.
Children form an opinion about their body very early on – and parents are crucial in this. Research has found that children as young as 4 years can have an issue with a certain part of their body. It is extremely important that you help them to develop a positive body image and plenty of self esteem. Teach them that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect body’ and many of the photos in magazines and online have been airbrushed or had certain features enhanced.
If your child is larger than average, it is well worth spending some time explaining that they are taller and broader than average and pointing out other family members who are similarly built. From a really young age, children can be taught to eat sensibly and with gentle persuasion and encouragement they will learn which foods are really good for them and those that they should eat as an occasional treat. Teaching sensible eating will ensure that your child does not have to go on various diets throughout their life in the hope of being slim.
Another valuable lesson that can be taught from when your child is young, is the value of exercise. Encourage them to learn how to cycle and get out on regular family walks. Lead by example and get off the bus one stop early so that you have to walk a bit further but show how much money it saves and pop it in a piggy bank to accumulate for a fun day out!
Teach your children how to plan a healthy meal and let them do so regularly. Let them help you buy the ingredients too and don’t be afraid to experiment with new vegetables, fruits and recipes. If your child does express concern about a certain part of their body, don’t just dismiss the topic as it is obviously worrying them. Discuss it to find out why it is worrying them and if for example it's a fat tum, maybe try four weeks of being extra careful about the number of calories eaten and see if it makes a difference or get out on a walk together every day.
Valuable lessons for teenagers.It is important that teenagers learn that even if they do not have a body like Venus, they can still look stunning, if they learn which colours and styles suit them this will give them a great boost of confidence. It is fun to spend time together working out which colours make her look tired and drained and which ones give a glow to the skin and make them look healthy and attractive. Encourage them to read about colour and style analysis online as this will help to give them confidence when choosing clothes and wanting to look their best. At this stage, it is important to teach girls about skincare and if you are unable to advise them, all of the big stores have trained members of staff on hand to guide them in the right direction.
You will find that your son too might be feeling negative about his looks, especially if he is shorter than many of his peers, is suffering from acne or doesn’t have finely toned six-pack abs. Teenage boys can be just as sensitive and need your support to bolster their self esteem. Underweight boys are much more likely to suffer from depression than girls. They will enjoy getting a new outfit of clothes almost as much as their sister and certainly there is a myriad of different products on the market to help calm down their acne, deal with greasy hair and even help a newly grown beard to look good!
Leading by example.It is important not to talk about dieting but to talk about healthy eating. Always sit down and share meals with your children when you can and don’t skip meals in front of them and don’t insist on a clean plate every meal time. Just as the tide ebbs and flows so does our level of hunger every day. Having said that, do keep an eye on how much or little teenagers are eating in case an eating disorder is developing. It is daft to shy away from family photographs and stating it is because you ‘look awful’ gives your children all the wrong messages – anyway, you will regret not being in family photos in years to come as these are what memories are built on.
The most important message to teach your children from an early stage is that looks alone do not count, the most important part of a person is their kind character….