How do psychologists and parenting experts help their own children develop a healthy body image? Here, they reveal all…
A healthy body image is something that can set children up to have a good relationship with themselves and with food for life. But how do you help your children develop a positive attitude towards their body? We asked the experts what they do with their own kids.
Be a healthy role model
Eating disorder specialist Dr Sloane Madden
“I have three daughters aged seven, 12 and 15. Working with people affected by eating disorders makes me mindful of how appearance, food and eating are discussed in our house. My wife and I are careful about how we talk about our own health, weight and appearance and we focus on all aspects of our daughters’ achievements.
We don’t label foods ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and we eat at the table as a family at dinner, most breakfasts and lunch on weekends. We do this to spend time together and so that food and eating are normal, happy parts of our day, not something to be anxious about.
While we worry about the pressures our daughters face from peers and ubiquitous sexualised images, we try to mitigate this by helping them understand how society promotes unrealistic body images. We support and monitor their use of social media and the internet so that we’re aware of what they’re looking at and can discuss issues.”
Praise kids for what they have control over
Psychologist Dr Joann Lukins
“I specialise in health and sports psychology and see clients with anorexia, bulimia and obesity. I have two sons aged 10 and 12. At home we emphasise good health, positive choices and good hygiene. We talk about health and the importance of fueling our bodies properly. We try to emphasise the aspects of a child’s health that they can control, not things they have little or no say in. We don’t talk about what they look like, but praise them for things they have control over, like what they eat and drink.”
Talk about what they see
Psychologist Drazenka Floyd
“I work in the area of eating disorders and body image and have two sons, aged 14 and 16. Children can be particularly vulnerable to body image issues around puberty when they are forming their identities and want to fit in. To combat this we encourage our boys’ interest in a variety of activities that make them feel good so they develop a healthy sense of self and are not reliant on how they look.
Something that impacts greatly on a child’s body image, self-esteem and sexuality is exposure to adult sexual images. These are everywhere in television, film, magazines, video games, music videos and advertising. Females are often depicted as passive sexual objects while male sexuality is portrayed as aggressive and strong. This can lead to unhealthy attitudes and beliefs in young people.
I educate my sons at every opportunity about media literacy and help them critically analyse what they see. This helps them develop a better understanding that what they’re seeing is often not reality. This reduces the chance they’ll internalise the sexualised messaging, so it’s less likely to affect their sense of self-worth”
Start the conversation early
Body image researcher Dr Zali Yager
“I specialise in the development of programs that promote positive body image in school settings. My children are young – my son is two and my twin girls are two months old – but it’s never too early to start encouraging healthy body image attitudes. We do this by appreciating the diversity of bodies and not talking about what our bodies look like.
There are some fabulous children’s books about appreciating diversity, such as Shapesville by Andy Mills, and Bugs in a Blanket by Beatrice Alemagna. Your Body is Awesome by Sigrun Danielsdottir is a great book that is designed to encourage young children to appreciate their body for what it does for them.”
Love them unconditionally
Clinical psychologist Christie Lomas
“Instilling a positive body image isn’t about having one conversation with your children, it’s about what you do and say every day. I have an 11-year-old daughter and nine-year old son. We talk about how people come in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes. We aim to give our children the message that we love them unconditionally, inside and out, and that there’s much more to them than their appearance. We don’t avoid commenting on their appearance, but make sure we praise them for kindness, clever thinking, being a good friend and their abilities.
Children of both genders need an awareness of how the media can influence how we feel about our bodies, so we look for everyday opportunities to discuss this, like when we’re flicking through magazines or watching TV.
We talk about the dangers of dieting and about how pictures of models are altered: thighs are reduced or smoothed out and breasts are augmented to make them appear so-called ‘perfect!’ No child is immune to body image issues, but helping them develop an awareness of the influence of the media can help prevent them.”