There are plenty of societal pressures we all face regarding how we “should” look. These societal expectations are often highly unrealistic and unhealthy for adults and kids alike. As parents, there are simple things we can do to help promote a healthy body image in our children.
It is important to avoid speaking negatively about our own appearance because children model our behaviors. If we mention how tight our clothes are or how we don’t like our appearance in a picture or use degrading language toward ourselves, our children are more likely to follow suit.
Rather than making these judgments toward ourselves, it can be beneficial to instead use positive language and avoid commenting on our appearance or the appearance of others. We can instead focus on the personal qualities of ourselves or another individual. This teaches children to understand that how a person looks has nothing to do with their character.
Yet another way we can promote a healthy body image in our children is by modeling and encouraging healthy lifestyle habits. We can help teach our children what a balanced and healthy diet looks like. As parents, we have a lot of control when it comes to meals. If we can add fruits and vegetables rather than snack foods to shared family meals or packed lunches, we can help our children form healthy habits and familiarize them with healthy foods.
This is not to say that children should be denied sweets or junk food completely, as denial can lead to overindulgence. Helping our kids learn how to balance healthy versus unhealthy foods is important. Share with them why our bodies need different types of food and how different foods can help keep our bodies working the way they are supposed to work.
As parents, we can also encourage regular physical activity and discuss the numerous physical and mental health benefits of regular exercise. Exercise does not need to be vigorous. It can take place in a team setting, in a class offered at the local gym, or on a family walk. The focus of exercise should not be to lose weight, but to keep our bodies and minds healthy and working properly.
The easiest thing by far that we can do to promote a healthy body image in children is to simply talk to them. It is important to maintain an open dialogue with our children about unrealistic images they may see in the world around them. Let them ask questions, and encourage them to keep talking as they need to.
If we can talk with our children, model and encourage healthy behaviors, and stop speaking negatively about our own appearance in front of our children, they will have a much stronger foundation to develop a healthy body image as they grow up.
Maddie Wiethop is a Youth First Social Worker at Evans Elementary School in Vanderburgh County. Youth First, Inc. is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families, providing 83 Master’s level social workers to 110 schools in 12 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First’s school social work and after school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.