It’s hard to imagine, but girls as young as elementary school are showing signs of disordered eating and a negative self-image of their body. Children as young as three pick up cues from their parents on body image. It is pretty astounding to think of these facts, especially if you have young children. When it comes to raising a child to have a healthy relationship with food and their own body, parents must be careful to model positive behaviors.
Dr. Stacy Rosenfeld, a clinical psychologist who treats patients with eating disorders, says she has been seeing a continual rise in unhealthy relationships between kids, their bodies, and food. Obviously, as a parent, you want to find a way to prevent this. And while these types of things are influenced by factors like peer groups and media exposure – parents most certainly have the power to help the situation.
There are concrete ways parents can help promote healthy eating and body image at home. Kids are smart and learn fast – they pick up on their parents’ relationship with their own bodies and food. If parents are counting calories, dieting, and talking about what foods they need to avoid to fit into a pair of pants or because it’s nearly swimsuit season; kids are aware of what’s going on. The impact can be harmful. Avoiding such topics should be as imperative as any other inappropriate conversation you wouldn’t want your kids to hear.
Okay…so how do you make sure your kids are healthy, without encouraging disordered eating or body image conflicts? Take in consideration these 6 suggestions:
1. Focus on all of your child’s strengths outside of his/her body, but make it a point to tell them how beautiful they are.
2. Never judge your body in front of your child. Avoid saying negative things about your body or even glancing in the mirror in a critical way.
3. Encourage physical activity for the sake of health rather than weight control.
4. Talk about certain food with regard to how it can nourish your child’s body rather than its effect on his/her weight.
5. Limit your children’s access to TV, magazines, and other places where unrealistic images of how men and women should look are often presented.
6. Throw out your scale and stop weighing yourself. Your children see everything you do and seeing you weigh yourself has a significant impact on their perception of their own weight and body.