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Parenting A Child with a Negative Body Image

No parent wants to see their child struggle, and it can be upsetting to see them battle with their negative body image [https://wellspringssolutions.com/2021/09/28/negative-body-image/]. You might feel confused about why they think the way they do or powerless to change their negative image. Maybe you do not understand where this is coming from or what you can do to help. While your child may need to do their work to overcome negative body image, here are three ways you can help and support them:

  1. Set a healthy example: Kids learn a lot from their parents, and your relationship with your own body is no exception. If you speak negatively about your body, are constantly on a diet, or openly place excessive value on appearance, the chances are that your child notices. Setting a healthy example requires self-reflection and being honest with yourself about your behaviors. The goal is to model a healthy relationship with your body, which has less to do with appearance and more to live a fulfilling life. Be mindful of the way you talk to or around your child:

AVOID

  • Labeling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and talking about dieting
  • Encouraging exercise as a means of losing weight
  • Focusing only on the outward appearance
  • Badmouthing your own body and identifying perceived flaws

ENCOURAGE

  • Eating a variety of foods that creates balance for optimal health & growth
  • Exercise for enjoyment, to boost mood and overall well-being
  • Highlighting strengths and attributes that have nothing to do with physical appearance
  • Body neutrality or body acceptance

2. Be curious about their experience: Some kids might be upfront in letting their parents know they struggle with body image issues. Other kids will be more subtle in their words and actions. They might begin making negative comments about specific parts of their body or dressing differently to hide their body. They might start eating less, skipping meals, or obsessing over healthy foods and burning calories. Take notice of these behaviors and be curious but nonjudgmental.

Try saying: 

“I noticed you’ve been eating less at dinner time. I just wanted to check in and see if everything is okay”. 

OR

“I understand that you think your stomach is too big. I’m curious, what makes you think that?” 

Don’t say:

“You eat like a bird! What’s the matter with you?”

OR

“You’re not fat; cut it out.” 

When you express genuine concern and validation, your child receives the message that it is safe to seek support from you.

3. Know the signs of a more severe problem: Body image issues are widespread, especially during adolescence. However, there is a difference between your child being a little insecure and experiencing impairment in daily functioning. For example, suppose your child begins withdrawing from friends or previously enjoyed activities, exhibits excessive or uncontrollable emotions, or has sudden changes in their sleeping and eating habits. In that case, it could be a sign of depression due to their severe low self-esteem and negative body image. Additionally, obsessing about body image can develop into an eating disorder. Be aware that your child experiences excessive weight loss, regularly skip meals or eats an uncharacteristically large amount (bingeing), exercises excessively, or routinely spends extra time in the bathroom after eating. If you are concerned that your child’s negative body image issues might be something more, don’t hesitate to contact your child’s doctor or mental health professional. 

Image by Andrea Petra Fogas from Pixabay

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