How do I support my child who is struggling with poor body image? What can I do?

Excellent question!  Here are some tips I like to give parents and kids to use in order to create a more positive body image environment at home:

  • When talking about your own body – be kind, don’t speak negatively about it. Remember, you are a role model. Show your child that when you want to make a change to feel better about yourself, you take positive steps to create it.
  • Self-esteem is reflection of our self-perceptions – our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves. Parents can help increase self-esteem by giving their kids different opportunities to try new things, assess their likes and dislikes, see what they are good at or not good at – let them fail and get back up to develop resilience. It’s in this failure and recovery that kids learn how strong and capable they are! This gives them the tools in life to believe in their own abilities.
  • Remove the scale(s) from the home! There is no need to let a number dictate how you feel about yourself or determine what kind of day you will have!
  • Declare your home a “fat free talk zone” – absolutely no negative comments about your body! No using the word “fat,” no talking about calories, shape, etc.
  • Create a list of positive qualities about yourself and your child that have nothing to do with your outer appearance. Put it in a place that you will see daily, like the bathroom mirror or kitchen fridge. Add to it often!
  • You and your child can begin a daily gratitude journal together – list five things you are grateful for that day (i.e., the yummy hamburger I ate, the rainbow I saw, my time with my friend, etc.). This will train your brain to look for the good!
  • Tell your child on a regular basis what you admire, like, and respect about them. Then say out loud what you like about yourself – role model being kind to yourself in this way.
  • Parents can provide their kids with opportunities to experience achievement using their minds and bodies – whether it is achievement in sports/ the arts, achievement in grades or achievement in being a kind, considerate human being. Feeling the pride of achieving something increases self-confidence!
  • Encourage and demonstrate doing activities that show that you appreciate your body – bubble bath, take a nap, go for a walk, wearing comfortable clothes, etc.
  • Teach media literacy – expose your children to websites that show the truth about airbrushing and all that goes into magazine covers, ask questions, such as, “why do you think they only use those models to advertise the lingerie?” Teach your kids to ‘talk back’ to the images they see in the media! Be critical!
  • Create an atmosphere of belonging. This adds to your child’s feeling of well-being, safety and sense of self. Getting a sense from parents that what their child has to say is valuable, that they are capable of problem solving within the family, and that they are an important member of the family adds to their confidence levels.
  • If your child ever says they feels fat, ask what is making them feel that way. Try to get to the underlying thoughts/emotions. It may have nothing to do with her body but have to do with something stressful that happened recently.
  • Encourage and demonstrate moving your body by doing something you like – dancing, swimming, hoola-hooping, biking, ice skating, etc.
  • Remind your kids regularly that every body is different. We all have different genetics. Even if we ate the same thing, did the same amount of exercise for an entire year, we would not all look the same at the end of the year!  Point out the diversity of shapes and sizes there are the next time you are on transit, at the mall, etc.
  • And remember, the most powerful message you can send to your kids is: YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY. Yes, you have a body, but it is not who you are. You are so much more!