Is your child unhappy with their ‘imperfect’ body? Encourage positive body image in these ways
Negative ideas about their bodies can manifest in various ways like excessive worry about their weight or body shape and extreme anxiety about their facial features or appearance. It's also important to note that boys are as much vulnerable to develop body image issues as girls.
By Janhvi Dargalkar
Till recently, negative body image was primarily a teenage issue. However, with the infiltration of media and internet, kids as young as eight years old have become extra cautious of their appearance and are suffering from a negative body image.
So why and from where are kids picking up such negative ideas about their bodies? As kids are vulnerable sponges, they tend to absorb unmindfully and retain everything that they see and hear. As negative body image is a learned phenomenon, kids could have picked it up either from their home environment, their peers, TV commercials or media.
With a lack of a mindful filter at this tender age, the good and the bad gets all scrambled up in their minds as huge messes of misinformation and unhealthy ideas which invariably affect their mental health and leave a permanent dent on their self-confidence.
Look for the signs
Negative ideas about their bodies can manifest in various ways like excessive worry about their weight or body shape and extreme anxiety about their facial features or appearance. It’s also important to note that boys are as much vulnerable to develop body image issues as girls.
So parents now have an added responsibility to keep a check on their progeny and not wait until their child is older to begin guiding their opinions on body image. If you happen to catch your child doing the following, then it’s a definite sign to strike a healthy and heart-to-heart conversation with them:
1) Your child only focuses on their physical imperfections and even negatively comments on it. They start feeling sad or hopeless about their weight or body.
2) You catch your child scrutinising themselves in the mirror more often.
3) You notice definite changes in their eating patterns. Your child starts refusing their favourite snacks or suddenly starts eating less. You find them attaching the emotion of ‘guilt’ to food.
4) They’re always comparing their body to that of other people.
5) Your kid starts getting upset about not finding clothes to wear.
What parents can do for positive body image
While sometimes it may be hard to catch these signs, it’s important that parents identify them as early as possible to prevent damage to their child’s self-esteem. A few measures that parents can implement are:
1) Be a good body image role model for your child as a parent is the most influential role model in their child’s life. Parent’s anxieties about their own bodies can negatively affect their kids.
2) Positive body talk by parents goes a long way in modelling and influencing the child’s inner narrative about their bodies. Parents should make it a habit to appreciate their own and their child’s bodies for what it can do, rather than what it looks like. Kids should be taught to value their achievements like their talents and skills.
3) Don’t tease or allow anyone to tease them about their weight, body shape or looks. Even jokingly used nicknames on the child’s appearance can be distressing.
4) Be a mindful listener to your child. Listen to their concerns about their body shape and appearance. Puberty can especially be a very challenging time for them with many physical and psychological changes happening at once. Assure your kids that these are normal changes and everyone has to deal with them.
5) Peer pressure and teasing can contribute to negative body image. If you find your child is a victim of it, then get in touch with their teacher or school.
6) Censor their exposure to media that you think could be encouraging such negative ideas but ensure that this doesn’t come across as arbitrary.
7) If you feel that even after your intervention, your child still encounters low self-esteem, don’t hesitate to seek the help of a professional counsellor.
While implementing the above measures, it’s important that parents also encourage the concept of healthy living in their kids. Thus, without fuelling their body image concerns, parents should encourage their kids to have a balanced diet and exercise. However, your focus should always be predominantly on overall health and well-being and not on mere physical appearance.
Listen| How to talk to children about body image
(The writer is a certified child and adolescence counsellor and psychotherapist with B Positive.)
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