Posted on July 23 2021
Positive body awareness and self-confidence go a long way to support a child’s development.
What is body positivity? It’s the acceptance and appreciation of all body types, no matter the size. Being positively aware of one’s body and having self-confidence are important for a child's development and they can help them throughout their lifetime. In a report by Common Sense Media in 2015 that reviewed dozens of research studies, it revealed the importance of body image to kids' healthy development and the influential power of media as well as parents in shaping their attitudes and behaviours, even when kids are very young. This is why it’s crucial to spark off these conversations early and teach your child as early as kindy. Here are some ways to do so.
Teach Your Child About His/Her Body
Sounds more like an anatomy or biology lesson, but for the little ones, this is a great way to help them learn about the facts of their bodies. Encourage your tots to get to know their bodies by naming key body parts like hands, feet, fingers, toes, noses, and eyes. Once they are older, you can start to explain the function of these body parts and how each and every one of them plays a crucial role. When you’re introducing genitals, it’s also important to use proper names and you can even go on to explain their function in an objective way. As you’re introducing your child to their body, you’re also subtlety teaching them that they should be proud of their body, and no one should make them feel embarrassed about any part of it.
Be A Good Role Model
Modelling behaviour is the easiest and most effective way to teach your child about body positivity. This also means that we have to extremely mindful of how we react and what we say about our bodies or those of others as kids love to mimic our actions. It’s important not to use negative language when we talk about body size and refrain from making negative comments too. Instead, we’ve to be positive – state positive aspects about ourselves and acknowledge that there is absolutely nothing wrong with imperfections. For slightly older kids, you can converse with them about body diversity and that everyone is unique in their own way. Furthermore, with kids being flooded by media images these days, you can start talking to them about why some of these images are unrealistic. This can be done using their action figures and dolls as well. At any point that you notice that your kids (especially tweens and teens) are struggling with body image, be understanding and encourage them to talk about it.
Focus on Health, Not Weight
Even if you’re on a quest to shed a few pounds, never talk about dieting to your kids. For your own sanity too, shift your focus and theirs to health rather than weight. Throw out the weighing scale (or just hide it somewhere!) and concentrate on healthy foods and activities. Kids shouldn’t be counting their calories or be restricted on their intake of food. Instead, they should be enjoying their regular meal and snacks. Start sharing your kitchen with them and introduce them to various foods in order to teach them about making smart, healthy food choices. For the little tots, this will in turn help them once they are off to school and buying their own meals. You can even create activities out of these kitchen sessions by teaching your kids about reading food labels and explain more about vitamins and minerals. Kids will be kids and if your child is eyeing a bag of chips, there's no need to chide them about it and mention about how eating such snacks affects their weight. Allow them to make some choices about the foods they eat and simultaneously create an environment at home where nutritious food and snacks are always available.
Find things that both you and the kids love to do and make it a regular family activity.
Encourage Physical Activities
There’s always good in heading out to the great outdoors and creating an environment where this is a regular family activity is a great way to inculcate a positive body image. While some kidare nature athletes, most love to just run about and expend their energy. Others like to take up some niche activity like taekwondo, horse-back riding or a K-pop dance class. It doesn’t matter what physical fitness they engage it, what matters is that they get off the couch, out of the house, and do it! Feeling fit, building stamina and being strong are all aspects of creating a positive body image.
Eat well, play well, and stay healthy – this is one of the best ways to encourage kids to look after their bodies.
Teach Your Child About Self-Acceptance
“Nobody is perfect!” – we often hear this or might even be one of those who say it to our kids ever so often. However, building self-confidence is tough and more so if you’re a child. The minute they enter a social circle, be it a playgroup, kindergarten, or formal school, social pressure is real. It’s crucial to talk to your kids about how amazing bodies are and celebrate the things they can do, rather than their limitations or the way they look. Tell them things like how their body is there for them when they stretch, reach, climb, or jump! Have them understand that there’s so much more to what their bodies can achieve, and its appearance is the least of their concern. Teach them how their bodies are their own to choose what to do with and their self-worth has absolutely nothing to do with their size or shape.
Focus On Behaviour, Talents, And Character Traits Instead Of Physical Size Or Appearance
The best time to do this? Story time! When you’re discussing fictional characters in storybooks, instead of talking about their physical appearance, focus on qualities of the characters even if they are negative. Ask things like, “Why was Sam not a good friend? How was his behaviour like in class?” You can also pick up words in storybooks that denote physical appearances like “round”, “plump”, “skinny” and ignite conversations on why some of these words may have negative connotations. With older kids, you can even begin asking them whether having these physical appearances mean that those characters in the books do not have good personalities. Should that be the case? Engage them in a discussion and you can begin introducing them to stereotypes and assumptions. The key message you need to relay across is that a person’s behaviour, talents, and character traits are far more important than physical appearance.
During story time, you can discuss with your child about the personality of the characters in the book. This is the best time to teach him/her that we should not emphasise on physical appearance.
Dispel Misinformation On Media Platforms
In this day and age, your child’s exposure to media and its portrayal of unrealistic beauty standards on what constitutes the “perfect body” is unavoidable. This can come various modes like advertisements on television or social media platforms. As parents, it’s important to check in and correct any misinformation about food, exercise, and body appearance. Be open in your conversations with them about how bodies are portrayed on television, magazines, and social media. You can also chat with them about pictures of models in print and online ads. For older kids, engage them in deeper conversations about whether they think this is realistic. It’s good to explain that many of these images are touched up or some entirely changed so that bodies appear “perfect” when in reality, they are not. This is also an appropriate time to teach them to avoid focusing on physical appearances – it’s the heart that matters.
Teaching your children body positivity and planning a healthy lifestyle around food and physical activity is important as ultimately it can have a lasting impact on their self-esteem, self-perception and how they interact with people in such an image-driven culture.
 Common Sense Media Past Reports, 21 January 2015, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/past-research-reports