When you have kids in school, chances are good you hear a litany of complaints.
While “my teacher gives too much homework” is just a war cry of adolescence, it’s important that you don’t treat those body image woes –I am so fat! – too casually.
The earlier a child begins to find fault with body image, the longer it is likely to last and the more damaging it can be. Moreover, more than 75 percent of girls who feel badly about their looks engage in negative behaviors such as drinking, cutting, smoking, bullying and disordered eating. That’s compared with only 25 percent of girls with a better self-image.
Here are five ways to head off body image woes:
1. Watch what you project. Fifty-seven percent of girls have heard their mothers criticize their own bodies in front of them. Children learn from what we do. Don’t label your body (or your food) in front of your daughters or sons. Watch what you say about yourself and others. Always model the behavior you want your children to emulate.
2. Develop a media literate household. Almost 70 percent of girls say that models in magazines have a major influence on what they think they should look like. Boys feel increasing pressure to look like male models. Yet, none of those images are real.
With the help of Photoshop and steroids, the images we see in magazines are unreliable, leaving our kids yearning for impossible standards. Watch the Dove Evolution video on YouTube for a quick education on photo altering. Search before and after Photoshop pictures on the Internet. Then reduce your subscriptions, watch (and talk about) television together and schedule some regular media blackout time for everyone.
3. Give your child sincere and specific compliments. Kids want to believe their parents, but they also have a good sense of what is true. So when we bombard them with over-the-top compliments, we actually make them wary of everything we say. Make sure the compliments you give are sincere and specific (“You are so much faster this year” instead of “You are the best player on the whole field!”). Compliment what they offer the world, as those are the traits that will take them far.
4. Model good health and wellness. Too many people equate skinniness with healthiness, but not all thin people are in the best of health. Rather than teaching our kids to aspire to a body type, teach them how to properly fuel their bodies so they have energy to move, enjoy life and appreciate what they can do.
5. Help your child find a passion. Finding something we care passionately about is actually one of the best antidotes to body image angst. It’s hard to worry about your freckles when you are doing something that consumes you.
Help your child find something he or she loves to do and fuel that passion. Ultimately, they’ll discover a gift they have to offer the world while realizing what really matters.