The emphasis on weight and body shape in society can propel negative body images from an early age. Although you cannot prevent your child from developing a negative body image and protect them from negative messages, you can do your part to help them develop a healthy relationship with their body.
No matter your child's size, it is never appropriate to criticize them. As a parent, you may feel like you are simply helping your child lose weight or offering suggestions, but the way you convey this information can have a lasting impact. Seemingly subtle comments, such as criticizing the volume of food they are eating or pointing out a chubby stomach, are often not minor comments to the child.
If you are genuinely concerned your child has a ravenous appetite, try incorporating more volume into their meals without adding many calories. For example, many people add finely chopped vegetables to meat sauces to help make them more filling. Suggest fun activities everyone in the family can become involved with if you feel like your child may be gaining weight rapidly. Criticism can have the opposite effect and precipitate problems with emotional and binge eating.
Survey Your Behaviors
You are your child's first teacher, and the way you feel about your body or react to other people will send a strong message to your children. Many children have a parent who has problems with a negative body image or may deal with an eating disorder. Although the parent may be convinced their problems are not obvious to their children, they fail to realize it is not as hidden as they believe. Focusing on your weight or making demeaning comments about how you look in clothes will influence your children. Similarly, making rude comments about other people in front of your children will also send a message about what is acceptable.
Focus On Health
Although it is never too late to focus on health, your child should grow up in an environment where health is more important than size and shape. Starting healthy eating behaviors as soon as your child transitions to solid foods will make eating a well-balanced diet easier and can minimize having a picky eater. When plenty of fruits and vegetables are the norm in your household, it can prevent these foods from becoming the roadblock to other foods on their plate. Part of the stereotypical problems between children and eating vegetables comes from vegetables being treated as a forced "good for you" food.
Sweets and high-calorie foods should be special treats. When children realize they can have some of these special foods in moderation, it can minimize hoarding of food and obsessions, which may result in hiding food and compulsive behavior. No food should be labeled as "bad." The obsession over which foods are "good" and "bad" can lead to the obsession that every morsel of a "bad" food will contribute to weight gain or a health crisis.
Include Both Genders
Problems with body image and eating disorders are primarily seen in females, but males can face similar issues. Make sure you are sending the same message to all your children, especially when you have children of both genders. The issues males face with body image are typically less about thinness and body shape and more about being larger and muscular. Additionally, when you are emphasizing a positive body image in your female children, remind your male children that females come in various shapes and sizes as well. Unfortunately, many of the negative messages girls and women receive about their body are also based on what is considered attractive or acceptable by males.
Unfortunately, with numerous avenues for messages about body image, it is impossible to protect your child from the wrong ones. However, you can create a household environment where health and a positive body image takes a priority over size and shape.
If you feel your child is struggling with their body image or an eating disorder, however, it is important that you seek help, such as outpatient eating disorder treatment centers.