"Everybody Has a Body": How to Talk to Your Children About Body Image
As a mother of two daughters, now 13 and 9, there are numerous conversations I anticipated having with them as they grew up and experienced life.
Since children don’t come with operation manuals, outside of reading books or pursuing advice from those who have already done it, we spend a lot of time as parents trying our best. Sometimes we succeed on the first try and often we get a lot of opportunities to try a different approach. Where my oldest child seemed to navigate life with ease in her elementary school days, my youngest has experienced these years differently...
Sometime during her second grade year, she came home and told me that a friend had told her that my daughter's legs were “fatter” than her own. My daughter wanted to know what “fat” was and whether that was bad... because it had certainly hurt her feelings. I’ll admit, I wasn’t anticipating that at 7 this was even something that was on their minds, and as it continues to be such a focus in our society, it begs the question:
How do we talk to children about their bodies and body image- and not just the girls?
Here are a few jumping off points to guide these conversations with the children in your life:
1. Let’s pause and examine the messages we send directly or indirectly about our own body image. Children are sponges and masters at picking up on subtext (maybe even better at this than directives to clean their rooms!) Take a moment and think about how you talk about or treat your own body. Are you spending time criticizing your body in the mirror? Talking about your latest diet or demanding workouts? Our kids are looking to us as their guide for how to do life.
2. Next, let’s talk about our bodies rather than avoiding these discussions. We all have one and it doesn’t help to pretend that we don’t or that we don’t see the people around us. Where we can start to make change is shifting what we focus on. Our bodies allow us to do so many awesome things and it actually has very little to do with size or weight. The next time you drive past a park, just take a moment to look at all the different kids running, jumping, swinging and skipping. These abilities exist whether they have long legs or short legs and is not dependent on the size clothes they wear or the number on the scale.
3. Of course, we want our kids to be healthy- so let’s talk to them about how that fits in our lives. All kids need physical activity and this can look different for each person. Some children find enjoyment in playing sports, others might like to ride their bike or take a walk. Wonderful! It all works!
If you’re looking for some additional resources to help further these conversations with your children, here are a couple books to check out:
Shapesville by Andy Mills & Becky Osborn (ages 3-8)
Beautiful Girl: Celebrating the Wonders of Your Body by Christiane Northrup (ages 9-12)
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]