Startling studies show that kids growing up these days can start to dislike their bodies at as early as five years old. Over 80% of American girls have been on diets before they hit puberty.
Here’s how to help raise body positive kids, and encourage them to love themselves exactly as they are—big, small, short, tall, and everything in between. Use toys to help younger kids understand a little better—for example, our Mash’Ems and Fash’Ems are various different sizes and shapes, much like our other toys. Do we judge the dolls and figurines for having differently shaped bodies? Much like their animals, kids love their toys no matter what. We love cats and dogs of any size—fat cat? Perfect. Skinny cat? Amazing. Orange cat? Excellent. Three-legged cat? Beautiful.
Teach kids to love bodies not just of any size, but of any ability. Disables bodies need positive vibes too, and it’s the responsibility of parents to raise kids that won’t judge or discriminate. Here’s some ways to promote healthy mindsets with your little ones, and maybe pick up some body-positive tips for yourself along the way.
Avoid negative associations with words
The word “fat” always comes with a negative connotation. To middle school girls, “fat” is sometimes the worst thing you can call another woman—not any slur or curse word, but “fat.” To help your kids grow up body positive, remove all negative associations with words like that. Skinny and fat are not good or bad—they are simple, physical observations, and you should encourage other language within them. Never use the word “fat” in an offensive, hurtful, or derogatory way, and call out behaviour that does. If you notice your child making negative remarks about someone else’s appearance, speak to them about it. Ask them why, and try to figure out where this is coming from. The sooner you can find the source of these thoughts and behaviours, the sooner you can help your child develop and grow into a healthy mindset.
Food isn’t the enemy
Speaking of negative associations with words, try to catch yourself every time you say something along these lines: “Oh, that cookie was delicious. But I’m so bad!”; “I really want a grilled cheese sandwich, but I want to be good.” Don’t use food as a reward or a punishment—promote a healthy relationship with food by letting your kids eat when they’re hungry and by keeping a supply of nutritious snacks around for them to munch on. Food is more than just calories and carbs—let your children enjoy food as it is: Talk about the taste, the texture, the color. Don’t restrict their food—and do the same for you.
Kids learn from the people they’re closest to—you. You are the biggest role model in your child’s life, and you can’t expect them to grow healthy and happy and love their bodies if you don’t demonstrate that kind of behaviour yourself. Be vocal about loving yourself—talk about what you appreciate about your body, and encourage your kids to do the same. Take enjoyment in eating healthy and treating your body and mind with respect. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t punish yourself with a gruelling workout after a bite of a cookie.
Give creative compliments
There’s more to compliments than “cute” and “pretty.” Praise your kids on more than just their appearance, and encourage them to do the same. Smart, creative, confident, funny, talented, sporty, strong, brave, and unique are all complimentary words that will do wonders for any child’s self-esteem—and encourage them to see themselves as more than just 2D beauty projectors. Beauty doesn’t have to be a part of the equation.
When you’re watching TV or movies with your children, make sure to point out harmful stereotypes whenever you see them. Teach your kids that the images on advertisements and in magazines aren’t authentic—and don’t ever let them compare themselves to the manipulated pictures.
Raising body-positive kids in 2016 might be a bit of a challenge, but absolutely worth it for their well-being. For more information and our photo sources, check out the rest of this incredible infographic from Common Sense.