5 Ways to Nurture a Positive Body Image In Kids

5 Ways to Nurture a Positive Body Image in Kids

Sometimes you can actually hear the whoosh. It sounds like a heavy sigh but is actually the sound of another load of confidence taking a dive, usually pushed by a mirror, a size tag or a set of scales. They’re the dirty little liars in our midst.

 If negative body image was caused by a pathogen, we’d be lining up the kids in our lives for immunity.

Having a positive body image doesn’t mean believing your body to be the picture of perfection. What it means is that the body is accepted and embraced as it is – bumps, bends, curves and all.

First (not that you probably need it) here are the stats:

 According to Eating Disorders Victoria:

  • Eating disorders are on the rise in boys and men.
  • 1 in 8 of women have had an eating disorder at some time in their lives.
  • In Australia, 28% of males and 35% of women aged 11-24 are dissatisfied with their appearance.
  • 41% of children are worried about how they look. 44% of girls and 27% of boys worry about being overweight. 16% worry about being too skinny.
  • A 2007 Sydney University study of nearly 9000 adolescents found that one-fifth of teenage girls starved themselves or vomited to control their weight. 8% smoked to control weight. Boys are doing it too.
  • In a study commissioned by Dove involving 3,300 girls and women aged between 15 and 64 from 10 countries, it was found that 67% of women withdraw from life-engaging activities because they feel bad about they way they look.

Now for the good news. There’s plenty we can do to protect our kids – boys and girls – against the assault of a negative body image:

  1. Model self-compassion.

    A recent study found that self-compassion protects girls and young women against unhealthy weight-control practices and eating disorders. Women who were able to be gentle to themselves in the face of disappointments and upsets had a more positive body image and better eating habits. Being kind to yourself in the face of disappointment will make it more likely that your kids will follow.

  2. Make positive comments about others.

    Whenever you can, make generous comments to your kiddos about people of all shapes. Confident people (not arrogant people) radiate a beauty that is enviable and unmissable. Let your children know that beauty doesn’t only come in a size 6, by pointing out other forms of beauty when you see it. This will counter the constant bombardment by the media that it’s otherwise. 

  1. No trash talk.

    Avoid talking about weight or the parts of your body you don’t like. If you need to do it because the absence of self-criticism is making you shudder, just try to avoid doing it in front of your kids. They’ll pick it up and they’ll run with it because out of everything they want to be, the thing they want to be the most is just like you. There is nobody more influential. They’ll follow your footsteps before they follow your advice. 

  1. Exposure to healthy cultures.

    Encourage your kids to participate in sports or activities that value performance over looks.

  1. Counter the comparisons.

    Harvard researchers found that when cable made it to Fiji in 1995 (Friends, Ally McBeal, Melrose Place and the like), rates of anorexia nervosa and bulimia skyrocketed. Prior to this, fuller figures were appreciated and eating disorders were almost unheard of on the island. Fast forward a few years, and girls who watched these shows at least three times a week were 50% more like to have a distorted body image. Many aspects of the media are relentless in their promotion of perfection and supermodel-esque beauty above all else. Nobody looks like the people in the photos. Not even the people in the photos. Let your kids know. They’re never too young to hear it.

The push against society’s blind infatuation with the perfect body shape isn’t easy. Occasionally I’ve found myself buying into the propaganda. It generally coincides with the lumbering escape of my body from a not so obliging zip but fortunately, these days, the buy-ins are short-lived.

None of us were born hating our bodies. Recently, 50 children and adults were asked what they would change about their bodies. The adults were asked first and their answers included ‘my Dumbo ears’, ‘my crooked feet’, ‘my skin’, ‘my eyes’. Then the kids had their turn and their answers were breathtaking – ‘a mermaid’s tail’, ‘wings’, ‘a shark’s mouth – to eat a lot of stuff’, ‘I like my body actually’ and ‘I don’t think there’s anything to change’. You can see the video by the Jubilee Project here. It’s beautiful, moving, confronting and deserves to be seen.

Children are clever and will pick up on the inconsistencies between what we say in the public moments and what we do in the private ones.

The way we treat ourselves is critical in protecting our kids against the insult of body image propaganda.

Stand between them and the propaganda and they’ll move mountains, or at the very least wave a confident, commanding ‘shush’ to a flimsy photo-shopped world that would have them believe that they can’t.

[irp posts=”1338″ name=”19 Practical, Powerful Ways to Build Social-Emotional Intelligence in Kids & Teens:”]

4 Comments

Sarah

How would you so this if you’ve already altered your body to fit the popular image?

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Tammy

Thank you for sharing, this is so beautifully touching! I would like to think that I encourage my children to see beauty in all people & will definitely continue to do so.
I loved the video, it made my day. X

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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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