Stick thin models, glamourised fashion images and super slender celebs have long been blamed for creating a negative body image for both teens and adults, but now research shows the issue is filtering down to children as young as age 8. Here’s how parents can help nurture a positive body image in their youngsters…
It’s frightening, but according to a recent Australian Institute of Family Studies study, statistics show that body dissatisfaction amongst children is rife, with children as young as eight feeling dissatisfied with their body regardless of their weight.
A whopping 56 per cent of girls aged 10-11 years old had also tried to manage their weight over the last 12 months and two in five aspire to be thinner than the average body size. According to The Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders, children are very sensitive to messages about body image and appearance from their parents. “Often you may not even be aware of the messages your child is hearing from you,” they explain. “Parents can have a very positive impact on the way a child feels about the way they look and their self-esteem.”
So what can you do to help nurture a happy and healthy body image for your children? Heed this advice from Sian McLean, a researcher from Latrobe University’s Body Image and Disordered Eating Research Group, and tips from The Butterfly Foundation…
Healthy messages to communicate with children:
Love and accept your own body:
This may not be easy but being aware of your attitude towards your own body will help you be conscious of the messages you send to your kids. Try to avoid looking in the mirror and making negative comments about the way you look. If your child sees that you feel comfortable and happy with your body, this can help them feel comfortable in their own skin. Show acceptance for everyone else’s body shapes and sizes
Don’t talk about diets:
Dieting is the biggest risk factor for an eating disorder. Try to avoid talking about diets, your ‘naughty’ eating habits, or your weight and size. This can give kids the impression that weight and size are highly valued by you and they might feel pressure to look a certain way or be a certain size. Celebrate diversity and emphasise how loved and valued your child is no matter what their weight, shape or size.
Talk to your child about the way they feel about the way they look:
Encourage your child to talk with you about their feelings. Create space to talk about things on a daily basis including what is happening with their friends. If your child feels safe to talk to you, then they are likely to share feelings about their bodies with you. Talk to your child about the way they feel about the way they look.
Balance the praise you give to your children:
Move away from appearance based praise.
Make your home a non-teasing zone:
Instead, monitor any appearance based teasing or comments and dissuade it.
DON’T: Talk about diets in front of your children or weigh yourself in front of your kids.
Even with the best of intentions, sometimes life throws us a curve ball. It’s important to recognise the warning signs of body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem as early as possible. There are certain cues you can pick up on in your child once you know what to look for.
- Withdrawal from social events and activities that they used to enjoy.
- A focus on diets, calories, health and particular foods. They might talk about wanting to be healthier or fitter and become obsessive about checking the nutritional content of what they are eating.
- They might become irritable or anxious around dinner time. They may refuse to eat certain foods or whole food groups.
- Complaints about the way they look, e.g. “I’m ugly” or “I’m fat”, or negative comments about their abilities, e.g. “I’m hopeless”.
- Frequent weight changes or rapid weight loss.
- Change in clothing style such as wearing baggy or oversized clothing.
- Preoccupation with looking perfect, and downplaying non-appearance based achievements.
If you notice any of these signs in your child it is important to seek help as early as possible. If you want to talk to an experienced counsellor about your own body image issues
Butterfly can support you. Call The Butterfly Foundation Support Line on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected]
Has your child experienced negative body image issue? How did you handle the situation?