Healthy body image – helping kids appreciate their looks

When someone accepts, appreciates, and has a positive opinion about their body and appearance, we say that person has a healthy body image. The way we think, feel, and generally form opinions about our own bodies develops through time and may depend on many things: experience and self-esteem, influence of other people, socio-cultural environment etc.

Although culture and media have great influence on shaping how we feel about our looks, the foundation of our body image is usually built during early childhood. If parents help their children develop a healthy body image from early age, kids are more likely to have greater self-esteem, exude confidence, and have a better ability to succeed in life. On the other hand, if children are taught physical appearance is a reflection of inner qualities and that looks have priority over intelligence; kindness; or compassion, these kids can develop a negative body image. They are more likely to develop a sense of who they are based on how they look, their confidence may depend on what others think of them. This could result in low self-esteem and sometimes serious self-perception disorders. This can further lead to anxiety, depression, social phobia or eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.

The power of parental influence is significant to build your child’s healthy body image. These are few helpful tips parents can do to encourage healthy body image and well being:

-Understand the messages you send. If you complain about your weight or body shape, if you constantly talk about dieting; calories; or guilt for eating more than you should have, or if you frequently comment other people’s looks – your children will mirror that behavior.

-Focus on healthy living. Place health before weight. Healthy nutrition choices, regular meals, and fun physical activities are great ways to help build a healthy body image. Make sure work out time is more a play time with family and friends. Some kids will prefer team sports, others may prefer individual activities. The important thing is they do what they like and enjoy it!

-Encourage self-esteem. Place value on children’s skills, achievements, expression of opinion, personality, and individuality rather than their looks. Kids with healthy self-esteem feel less influence by peer pressure and are less likely to look a certain way just to be accepted by others.

-Demystify the “perfect body” glorification. Educate kids about marketing tricks and why we think models and celebrities look perfect and flawless. Their appearance has been retouched or manipulated. Encourage critical thinking and dialog. Ask them to tell you in their own words why they think a certain body shape is ideal and explain the influence of media and culture on the formation of beauty standards.

-Say no to bullying. Wight and looks in general are a major basis for teasing and bullying. If you are concerned your kids’ school doesn’t have an effective anti-bullying policy, talk to teachers, the principal or a counselor to help them address this issue. Creating a more positive school environment that promotes a healthy lifestyle goes a long way in helping children build a healthy body image and understanding that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

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