To help children have a healthy body image and discourage them from being too wrapped up in their looks, you have to plant the seeds at a young age.
Body image begins to develop at a very young age and is influenced by parents, media and peers, according to a 2015 report by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that promotes smart media and technology choices for kids.
It’s not easy to combat the negative effects of a media culture obsessed with beauty and body image. But parents can help by not overemphasizing looks at home. Focus praise more on your children’s character attributes and accomplishments than on their looks. And don’t judge others by their looks – especially in front of your children.
In an article entitled “Why we should tell girls they’re ‘beautiful’ less often,” writer Jaci Conry explores the realization that her 5-year-old daughter is obsessed with her appearance.
“I’ve been telling Emma she’s beautiful since the day she was born,” Conry wrote in The Boston Globe. “And with her blue eyes and wavy brown hair, interspersed with gold strands that middle-aged women pay big bucks for – she is. I love to buy Emma clothes; I draw attention to her dolled up in a new dress, sending her to ‘show daddy how beautiful she looks.’ Relatives constantly compliment her appearance. No wonder she’s already weighed down by the pressure to be pretty.”
Dr. Crystal Cole of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital said you should also be careful not to focus too much on your own body. Making negative comments about your body has an impact on your children.
“Positive body self-image starts at home,” Dr. Cole said. “Parents often have poor self-image and may be constantly dieting and putting themselves down. Kids absorb that.”
Dr. Cole suggests parents encourage acceptance of different body types. Emphasize healthy eating habits and exercise, and praise kids for doing so. Also, identify good role models for your kids – people known for their talents and brainpower, not their beauty or great physique.
Kids obsessed with their looks can develop unhealthy behaviors. Consuming lots of online media can elevate those risks. Boys can be just as concerned about their looks as girls.
“It may be very difficult for some people to attain the body they want without great genetics or very restrictive diets, and that can present problems,” Dr. Cole said.
“If there aren’t health concerns, there is no bad body type. You are who you are.”
If your child is overly consumed with appearance or body image to the point where it causes compulsive behaviors, you should seek professional help.