The sad reality is that children younger and younger are expressing concerns about body image. Negative body image can cause significant distress and low self-esteem.
Research has indicated that children as young as 8 and 9 are vulnerable to negative body image. The research also suggests that adolescents with negative body image are more likely to develop unhealthy relationships with food, low self-esteem, low mood and anxiety.
What can you be doing to help your child cultivate a healthy body image? It’s a great question and one which I hope to shed some light on today.
First of all, let’s be clear about what ‘body image’ means. The term body image refers to the way we think and feel about our bodies, the way we feel about how our body moves, grows and looks. Body image forms part of our self-conceptualisation, or in other words, how we think and see ourselves. A positive body image means a child is happy with their body and contributes to healthy self-esteem.
A positive body image begins to develop for babies and develops and grows along with the child. Often the period of adolescence is an intense period of change and can bring about changes to body image. There are many things that adults can do to help babies, children and adolescents to cultivate a healthy body image.
In infancy, parents can give babies lots of encouragement by smiling and praising them. They can give lots of physical affection like cuddles and encourage their baby to play in a way that moves their bodies.
During childhood, kids begin to compare themselves to others and want to feel positive about what they can do and how they look compared to other kids. You will often hear children calling out for you to notice when they have done something well. Allow them to show you what they can do. Give lots of praise and encouragement both about their skills and how they look. Being active with your kids also helps a great deal and not only fosters a sense of achievement but strengthens relationships too.
Adolescence is a challenging time as the body undergoes all sorts of changes. No two kids change in exactly the same ways or at the same pace. Some will develop into teenagers well before others and for some kids, it is an exciting phase whilst for others it can feel very difficult. Adults can help pre-teens and teenagers to develop a healthy body image by avoiding criticising the way they look, allowing them to experiment with different looks, help them to get plenty of sleep and eat healthy foods and encourage them to remain active.
Throughout all infancy, childhood and adolescence, caregiving adults should also consider their own body image and do their very best to address any issues they themselves have in this space. If mum or dad is constantly concerned or dissatisfied with body weight/ body image then it is very easy for children to model this dissatisfaction themselves. It’s important not just for your own mental wellbeing but also for that of your children to cultivate a healthy body image for yourself. If you are struggling in this area there are plenty of self-help and online resources available, as well as psychologists who can provide more specialised help if required.
The Murdoch Research Unit
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