By Dr. Lyndsay Elliott
Dr. Elliott is a clinical psychologist and an eating disorder specialist in southern California. Learn more about her work here.
"Self esteem" Mixed media by Alexa Van Daam
A healthy body image means accepting and appreciating your body and feeling satisfied with your appearance. It also means being grateful for your body’s qualities and capabilities. Learning to love and respect your body is an important part of personal development and a major contributor to self-esteem. Once you connect to this inner confidence, while also letting go of unrealistic standards/expectations for what you think your body should look like, you can break free from not feeling _____ enough (thin, beautiful, young, firm!). You can then create a sense of self you can truly feel proud of. Without that, you leave yourself vulnerable to the development of disordered eating patterns, a poor relationship with food, depressive symptoms and low self-esteem.
The following list provides ways in which parents can promote a healthy self-image in their children. By utilizing these tips, parents can support their child’s self-esteem starting at an early age and establish a healthy body image. That will protect against the development of more serious eating disorders and body image issues.
1. Instill Confidence: When you comment on internal qualities you instill self-assuredness in your child. Use phrases such as, “You are really good at….” Or “You seem to really know…” Reward effort and completion, instead of outcome.
2. Encourage Movement: Find a physical activity that your child enjoys, and focus on how being active makes your child feel. Promote the health benefits of exercise, without emphasizing weight or the value of leanness.
3. Be Aware of Influences: Monitor the sources that are influencing your child. Check out what your kids are reading though the media and facebook, and listen closely (without intruding) to the conversations they have with their peers. Encourage your child to discuss what is going on around them, and to have a healthy critical mind of what they have seen or heard.
4. Be a Good Role Model: Eliminate the word “diet” from your vocabulary, do not discuss how much weight you want to lose, or how what you have eaten will impact your appearance. Be brave enough to remove the scale from your home.
5. Develop Positive Self-Beliefs: Help your kids to set realistic standards in evaluating themselves. Praise achievements. Identify areas where they can grow, and give them positive, accurate feedback on their performance.
6. Find Balance in your Kitchen: Offer a variety of nutritious and “junk” foods in your home for your children. Establish healthy eating habits. Help them to choose foods based on what their bodies need to give them energy. Do not limit portions or ban foods, and allow them treats as appropriate.
7. Be Kind to Others: Avoid speaking negatively about other people’s appearances and weight. First, it’s just not nice. Second, your child will wonder if you critique them, and may become fearful of being judged too.
8. Give Your Child Too Much Love: Consistently show your children how much you care about them. Give them physical affection, leave notes in their lunchboxes, offer praise frequently. But, be honest. Your kids will know if it is genuine!
9. Remember the Joys of Puberty: Weight and shape may fluctuate with growth and maturity. Normalize changes, and make sure your child understands that these fluctuations are a natural progression of growing up, and not necessarily indicative of the future. Everyone has an awkward stage!
10. Ask for Help: If you notice any concerning behaviors, seek the help of a professional as soon as possible. The quicker you can catch any blossoming disordered behaviors, the sooner you can help to resolve them!