Young kids learn fast and are very impressionable – it is quite easy to affect how they see things and how they form an image of themselves. As parents, it is important to be mindful of how our kids are developing their self-image especially with the presence of outside influences such as media that are easily accessible to them.
One of the strongest messages that media can send to kids is what makes someone beautiful. Unfortunately, media around us these days can easily send the message that ‘thin is beautiful’ and body-shaming has become more prevalent because of social media. With the right attitude and guidance, you can help your child avoid this mindset and develop a healthy body image instead. Here are some ways you can do this.
1. Eat healthy. Creating a healthy body image will be difficult if your child regularly consumes junk food in significant amounts AND sees you doing the same. Limiting your child’s consumption without changing your own diet will not work either, because we all know how good kids are at modeling behavior. The key is for the whole family to have a healthier outlook on food and getting everyone to eat healthy.
It may help to categorize food into what he can only eat sometimes and what he can always eat. Having a few chips and hotdogs at a friend’s party will not hurt, for as long as your child knows that these food items can only be consumed occasionally. This means your grocery cart should get a makeover and have healthy food items in it instead of junk food. Make sure your kitchen and pantry always have enough healthy food choices for your little one to consume.
2. Exercise. Aside from eating healthy, exercising is essential to having a healthy body. Little kids will get the exercise that their bodies need just by giving them space to play and run around, but it will greatly help in developing a healthy body mindset if they also see their parents taking the time and making an effort to exercise.
Set a regular time for the whole family to exercise and do physical activities. This does not mean bringing your toddler or preschooler to the gym – you only need to spend time outdoors running and playing with your little one. Express how it feels good to engage in activities that let you be active and work up a sweat.
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3. Avoid criticizing your body and other people’s bodies. Don’t fall into the same media trap of body-shaming and inadvertently propagating the same to your child. The way you talk about your own body and other people’s bodies will greatly affect how your child views hers. Avoid talking negatively about your body or criticizing others for being fat or thin. This includes not obsessing over losing weight or talking about being on a weight loss diet.
4. Compliment various types of bodies. Instead of criticizing other people’s bodies, give compliments instead. Focus on the strengths of other people instead of talking about their bodies. Make sure not to limit your compliments to a specific body type. Whether someone is thin, fat, muscular, petite, or tall, find something good to say and talk about it with your child.
5. Compliment your child’s body. This can be quite tricky, because you cannot just dish out compliments for how your child looks. Unfortunately, it can be quite common in Pinoy society to exclaim ‘wow, sexy!’ to a young child. The word in itself and what it actually means is not an appropriate description for a child. Instead of giving compliments for your child’s physical appearance, express admiration for how strong and healthy her body is. Compliment what her body can do – run, jump, dance, hop, skip – instead of how it looks. Counter any kind of negative body image talk that may come from your child such as ‘I don’t like my hair’ or ‘I’m too fat’ by saying something good about her.
6. Compliment what’s ‘inside’ As cliché as it sounds, it is important for your child to learn that what matters is what is inside instead of what can be seen outside. Make sure to dole out compliments as well for your child’s kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, and her other positive attributes. Do the same when talking about other people, such as when your child is talking about a friend, say something about how respectful her friend is whenever you see her.
7. Discuss what your child sees and hears. It can be quite difficult to screen everything that your child sees and hears, but keep in mind that your views and opinions will matter more to her. Make use of this authority by discussing things with your child. It is not unusual to encounter some people or forms of media that make fun of how other people look. Whenever your child encounters these, turn them into opportunities for you to talk to your child about how it is more important to have a healthy body and to feel good about her body without basing it on any particular weight or body type.
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There is a lot of pressure from society and media when it comes to how one should look. Help your child grow up to have a healthy body image so that she can easily stand up to such pressure and be confident in the knowledge that she does not have to conform to this mindset. With a healthy diet, adequate physical activities for her growing body, and guidance from you, she can develop a healthy body image that will stay with her until adulthood.