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How can I teach my child about body positivity?

In today’s media-saturated world, children are bombarded with unrealistic standards of beauty that can negatively impact their perception of their bodies. These images and messages can lead to harmful comparisons and decreased self-esteem. As parents and caregivers, it’s important to try to counteract these influences and promote body positivity so our children can embrace a healthy self-image to carry with them throughout their lives. Here’s how to teach children about body positivity;

Understanding Body Image 

Teach child about body positivity starts by explaining  the importance of how a person views their own body and how they feel about its appearance and capabilities. A healthy body image means feeling comfortable and accepting of your body, recognising its abilities, and appreciating looks without letting them overshadow everything else. On the other hand, a poor body image, or body dissatisfaction, means negative perceptions and feelings about your body which can lead to mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. 

Influences on Body Image 

A child’s body image can be shaped by several factors:

  • Media and Social Media: The portrayal of ‘ideal’ bodies in media can create unrealistic standards.
  • Family and Friends: Comments and attitudes of family members and peers can greatly influence a child’s body image.
  • Life Changes: Puberty and other significant changes can impact body image.
  • Health Conditions or Disabilities: Physical differences or health challenges can affect how a child views their body.
  • Cultural and Ethnic Backgrounds: Different cultures have varying standards and ideals about body image. 

Impact of Body Image on Mental Health

A positive body image contributes to better mental health, helping children to feel more confident and happy. Poor body image however can lead to mental health issues, sometimes stopping children from participating in activities they enjoy and impacting their daily lives. Therefore, recognising signs of body dissatisfaction early on is important. 

Signs of Body Image Concerns

To teach children about body positivity, lookout for these signs that might indicate your child is struggling with their body image: 

  • Noticeable changes in mood or social interactions.
  • Alterations in eating and exercise habits.
  • Expressing worry about their appearance.
  • Reluctance to participate in activities that expose their body, such as swimming.
  • Avoiding being in photographs.
  • Spending excessive time editing photos or using filters to alter their appearance. 
  • Developing rigid ideas about what is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ body type. 

Tips for Promoting Body Positivity

To teach children about body positivity, create a supportive and open environment at home is key to help your child develop a healthy body image. Your attitudes and behaviour set the foundation for how they perceive themselves. Here are some ideas that may be helpful:

  • Model Positive Behaviour: Children learn a lot by observing their parents. Show a healthy attitude towards your own body and avoid making negative comments       about your appearance or that of others.
  • Open Communication: Encourage your child to talk about their feelings and listen to their concerns without judging them. This will help them to feel supported           and understood. 
  • Debunk the Myth of the ‘Perfect Body’: Talk to your child about how images in media are often edited to look ‘perfect’. Emphasise that these standards are                   unrealistic and that real bodies come in all shapes and sizes. 
  • Diverse Role Models: Introduce your children to a variety of role models (famous or people they know personally). Point out that they come in all different                     shapes, sizes and backgrounds, and highlight their achievements, strengths and qualities. This will help your child understand that value and success are not             tied  to someone’s appearance. 
  • Social Media Literacy: Teach your child how to use social media for a positive impact. Discuss the impact of filters and photo editing and how this doesn’t reflect        reality. Encourage them to follow accounts that promote body positivity and unfollow those that make them feel bad about themselves. 
  • Value Health Over Weight: Encourage a healthy lifestyle that focuses on nutrition and physical activity for overall well being, rather than solely for weight control.        (For support and resources on eating disorders, you can visit the Beat Eating Disorders website.)
  • Focus on Character and Achievements: Praise your child for their talents, efforts, and character traits rather than just their looks. This will help them to truly value       themselves and not focus solely on their physical appearance. 
  • Be Active Together: Engage in physical activities as a family to make exercise fun and a regular part of life. This will help your child to see that physical activity is       something that can be enjoyed rather than something to endure. 
  • Peer Pressure and Bullying: Help your child to navigate peer pressure and bullying by discussing scenarios they could encounter at school or in social situations.       Roleplay how to respond to negative comments about appearance and teach them to stand up for themselves and others, reinforcing the importance of                   kindness and respect.  
  • Unhealthy Advertising: If you come across advertisements that promote unrealistic body standards, you can report them to the Advertising Standards Authority      to help reduce the spread of harmful content. 

By challenging harmful beauty standards and teaching resilience against body shaming, you will help your child develop a healthy, balanced perspective on their body and self-worth. This is an ongoing process that involves patience, understanding and open communication, but will help them to build a positive body image that will benefit their mental and physical health throughout their life.