In today’s world, children have many types of media all trying to get their attention. Not only do they have children’s television, but they also have toy companies, food companies and of course, fashion companies. All of these businesses are looking to influence the parents by engaging with their children. While this might not be too much of a problem when the children are young, as they grow older, these messages can become more worrying, especially when children reach their teens. How can you as parents try to maintain a body positive image for your children?
How do you Feel About Your Body?
Although the media has a lot to do with how children feel about their bodies, there are also those messages coming from inside the home too. Before you start to address your children’s issues with their body, you need to think about your own relationship with your body. If you are always making comments about your belly or legs and saying that you need to lose weight or go to the gym, then your children will pick this up. Although you might not be doing it consciously, you are reaffirming the fact that your kids need to lose weight or start to do more exercise. To counter this, try to make your comments more positively, and try to do things that are fun as opposed to a workout or exercise. For example, if you need to lose weight, try taking up a hobby such as yoga or Pilates and say that you are going because you enjoy it. Rather than mention diets, tell your children that you are going to eat healthily but not count calories.
Make Weight and Exercise Fun Not Scary
For children, they want to do fun activities that are going to give them pleasure. If they are going to the gym because they need to lose weight, then they will see this as a punishment. Take it on board as a family and tell your kids that you are going to start doing fun activities together. It could be a day at the beach playing volleyball or perhaps some fun in the park with a soccer ball. Both will give them the exercise that they need, without making them worry that they need to exercise. The same can be said about their diet; you don’t want to be constantly telling them that they shouldn’t eat something because it will make them fat, instead, focus on healthy eating. Again, if you do this as a family, your children won’t see it as anything special to them. Start a healthy eating program that includes teaching them what constitutes a healthy snack choice. Work together to come up with menus and other food that you can all eat. By doing this, you can teach them about healthy eating without the shame of banning unhealthy foods.
Start a Blog or Journal
One way that you can promote a healthy image to your children is to be an advocate for positive body shape. You could even start a blog about healthy eating and fun exercise that they can help to contribute to themselves. Not only will it help them to understand more about a positive body image, but it will also help them to understand that there is no ‘perfect body.’ You can involve them by asking them to write about their thoughts and feelings, or any times when they felt bad about their body. They can also help to find royalty free images for your posts. Writing the blog will also help all of those parents and children that are struggling with similar issues to you. Having a support network is a hugely important way to deal with issues such as these. It can also help them if you find or start a forum about body image, as many children and adults are trying to dispel the myths about body image and so having somewhere they can mix and share experiences can be beneficial.
Being Open with Your Children
One of the most important parts of dealing with body image issues is being open with your children. They are going to be exposed to all manner of images and stories about the ideal weight and exercise, and not all of them will be positive. However, it is important that when they are exposed to this, they are then encouraged to talk with you about how it makes them feel. From an early age, the idea of weight and body shape should be put into context and any ideals discussed and looked at objectively. By doing this, you can hopefully encourage your children to talk to you if they feel any shame or upset about their body or if they find any picture confusing. You don’t want to bombard them with information or force them to think a certain way, as that can achieve the opposite effect to what you’re looking for, however, if you are worried or unsure about your child’s image of themselves, then you need to seek professional advice.
Dealing with Bullying
Children are often exposed to bullying at school or among their peers for several reasons. Bullying of any type is unacceptable; however, when that bullying is directed at a child’s weight or their shape, then this can be particularly damaging. Some children are greatly affected by such comments and may start to seek to change their bodies as a result. Other children may start to focus on their bodies because of general bullying as a way of being able to control something. Your children need to understand that bullying of any type is not permissible and that they can come to you or the school about it. The vital part of the process is that the children doing the bullying are dealt with so that they are discouraged from doing it again. If the issue is at school, then you need to pursue them to find out how they are dealing with the situation. If you find that their course of action is insufficient, then you need to keep working with them until they find a suitable solution. If the issue is with local peers in your neighborhood, then you should try to speak to their parents. It is possible that they might not be aware of the situation and will be able to deal with it straight away.
Help them to Bust the ‘Perfect Body’ Myth
Apart from a blog, there are other ways that you can help them to see their body more positively. If you or your children see something on the television or in the magazines that promote a false sense of body image, then you should sit with them and discuss the images and what they mean. Explain to them that many of the models in these pictures might have been retouched by using photoshop or other types of photo editing software. Encourage them to look at magazines and websites that portray a more realistic image of women and men and that these are the images they should see as ‘normal.’ There are many examples of images that have been retouched and how they look in reality.
If You Are Feeling Concerned
Despite all the things that you try to do, there can still be ways that the negative images and feelings can influence your children. It might not be because of any one incident or bullying, but a more general thing that builds up over time. Recognizing the signs can be difficult, and it might be that things have been going bad for a while before you suspect something. Many people that develop problems with their weight or their body image are good at hiding it from everyone including their family. If you do notice signs that are worrying you, then try to talk to them about it. It is important that you are not angry or pushy with them to talk to you, just tell them that you are there to support them and if they have any issues they can come to you. In some cases, this can be enough to prompt them to talk to you, however, if it isn’t then you need to leave them for a little while to see what happens. If you are still worried, or if they tell you that they are having problems, then you need to seek the advice of a professional counselor. They can start to talk to your child and find out where this idea came from, and they can then hopefully start to work with your child to overcome these problems and change their perception of themselves. In some cases, the image they have of themselves is distorted, so while they can never fully recover from it, they can learn to deal with it and feel better about themselves.
By talking to your children and encouraging them to explore the real truth behind the perfect body, you should be able to keep them from seeing themselves as anything other than normal.