Unfortunately, the negativity you may feel when you look in the mirror doesn’t stop as soon as you have a son or daughter. And although we may have our own set of self-care strategies and understand the need to actively seek out body-positive literature or other sources for inspiration, children instead look to us for guidance and reassurance on this front. So as a parent, and consequently a role model, it’s critical for you to know how to effectively address the topic of body image, and ultimately encourage a positive one in your littles. We spoke with Paige O’Mahoney, a certified health and wellness coach and retired pediatrician, about how to raise a self-confident kid amid your own struggles with self-esteem.
1. Focus on the right things. O’Mahoney stresses that parents should prioritize function over appearance (e.g., “Your eyes help you see pretty things,” versus, “Your eyes are pretty”) and strength over thinness (e.g., “Your legs are so strong,” versus, “Your legs are so skinny.”) Above all else, “you want your child to be healthy,” she says. So underscoring the importance of health more so than other aspects of the child is an effective way of encouraging them to do the same.
2. Encourage self-care. Promote the practice of self-care, particularly by engaging in it yourself. You should not only encourage your children to practice self-care, but also praise them for it as a way of further reinforcing its importance. “It’s a practice that supports self-efficacy and confidence,” O’Mahoney comments, which is why it should and must be done habitually by both you and your child.
3. Model acceptance. Be mindful of what you say about your body in front of your children, especially as you look in the mirror or at yourself in photos. They will utilize the positive words you say as the “language [with which] to speak kindly to themselves,” O’Mahoney remarks. As a starting point, make positive rather than negative statements about your body and appearance and focus on its uniqueness rather than comparing it to the bodies of others.
4. Draw from media. Although some media may send harmful messages about body images, others can be exemplary of body positivity. “Use TV, videos, and movies to discuss celebrities who appear to have a positive body image and what they say or do to care for their bodies in a supportive, loving, sustainable way,” O’Mahoney advises. As for addressing those negative media messages, talk with your child directly about what pressures they feel they face to have “perfect bodies.” O’Mahoney recommends then brainstorming with them to come up with kind and productive ways in which they can respond to said pressures.
5. Ask for help. Despite your efforts, your child may succumb to social pressures, leaving them with a low sense of self-worth. If your child seems to be struggling with body image issues, reach out to their pediatrician for assistance, O’Mahoney says. They will be able to refer you to an expert in the appropriate field.
How do you promote body positivity as a parent? Tweet us @BritandCo.
(Photo via Getty)