The important role a healthy body image plays in our individual mental health, self worth, and self-esteem cannot be overstated - which may be why it's become a popular talking point as of late. If it's so crucial for us as adults, though, how can we help our kids with it? The question for many of us really becomes how can we instill our kiddos and young patients with a healthy body image right from the get go, so they don't have to spend years fixing it later like many of us are?
Here are 10 of our favourite ways:
1) Kids learn first and foremost by watching. “Do as I say, not as I do” is simply never going to cut it. Sorry, y’all! The first step to instilling a healthy body image is to walk the talk. Look at your own feelings towards your own body. How do you look at yourself in the mirror? Do you talk about your own body with care? Do you look at, talk about, and treat your body as a loved, or at the very least, as an appreciated entity? The kids around us will notice.
2) Say thank you. Gratitude is an amazing way to learn love. Touch a series of body parts and say thank you to each one. “Thank you arms; you helped me hug a lot of people today. Thank you nose; you helped me smell mom’s amazing dinner. Thank you tummy; you helped me absorb nutrition to give me energy.” Pick 3 different parts each time. Taking turns with your kiddo (you say thank you to your body part, then their turn, and so on) can also help work together towards any repair we may need to do for ourselves, while setting a good example for them.
3) When teaching, noting, or answering questions in everyday life, focus on straightforward recognition, not comparison. Noting differences is normal and healthy. Kids love noticing differences as they learn about their world! This helps them clarify who they are and create their own unique identities within it. We can do this without falling to comparisons, however. This may sound like, “Yes, that person is very tall.” Instead of “Yes, that person is very tall, but it’s okay to be short, too.”
4) Focus on skills, abilities, and talents instead of appearance. As Dr Lexie Kite & Dr. Lindsay Kite say, “Your body is an instrument, not an ornament.” Instruments are used to do things, make things, feel things, experience things, try things, share things... Ornaments are decorations.
5) Make a “Top Ten List of Things I Love About My Body / Who I Am Right Now.” Sometimes a good dose of love can help turn the tide on an insecure moment. Doing this routinely can help overshadow the negatives. Humans have evolved to focus on roughly 1 negative thing over 9 positives. This has served us well in the past. Not so much at the moment. Overdoing this with a "Top Ten In This Moment" can help interrupt this patterning.
6) Help someone else. This guides us to subconsciously focus on what we can do & how we can be of service to others, as opposed to what we look like doing it. Shift the focus.
7) When it comes to media, make it a discussion piece. Help kiddos develop a critical eye for what is real, what is altered, what is healthy, and what is dangerous by talking about it. This applies to social media, television, advertisements…we’re surrounded by it constantly!
8) Allow kiddos to bring up insecurities they may be harbouring. Listen. Then as hard and heartbreaking as it’s going to feel, don’t override them to fix it. Ask if something happened to make them feel that way, or think that. Become curious. How did they feel when it happened? What could be done if it happens again? Is there something they could try to focus on instead? Could they do a Top 10, give themselves a hug, say an affirmation, etc.? What do they think? Discuss alternatives and allow them the opportunity to figure it out for themselves. Thank them for sharing with you! Especially if it was hard, thank them for being vulnerable and brave enough to share. The experience of another human sharing with you is a privilege.
9) Seek out diversity. Unconscious biases are learned uncomfortably early (this has even been studied in babies). The more diversity by which we and they are surrounded (in toys, books, videos, everyday life), the more differences are normalized and accepted, the more their own individuality can be appreciated without internal pressure to change.
10) And finally, seek out toys, books, etc. that look like them. This is sometimes hard to do - we know, this is literally why our company exists! It's still far harder than it should be. But when possible, this can help kiddos feel validated in a world that can sometimes still feel unwelcoming. Feeling seen by the world at large can help a kiddo feel like they’re meant to be there.
These are by no means the only ways to help ourselves and our kids. Just as a healthy body image is not a final destination, but a journey each of us is on for as long as we're here. We're all works in progress, but there are absolutely ways we can help each other along the way.
Which suggestion are you going to try first?
Do you have another body image suggestion you'd like to share with us? Send us a message on our Contact Us page, and let us know!
Sending you love, friends!