Gestures, tone, facial expressions, body language…kids pick up on it all. While the words said directly to them do play an important role in the development of self esteem, children also construct body image by observing people around them.
In other words, blatant compliments and criticism are only two of the factors that shape the way kids think and feel about their bodies.
What else plays a role in crafting self worth? How can adults ensure that youngsters grow up to be confident and self-loving?
Filter what you say about other people. Making judgmental comments about others (even if they are strangers) is just as bad as making them directly to your child. By outwardly showing that you judge others, you are sending the message to your child that you might size them up too. Exposure to superficial judgements and criticism teaches children to start critiquing their own looks, while evaluating those around them.
Compliment deeper. Compliment others on their positive energy, great ideas, strong work ethic, and ‘can do’ attitude rather than their physical appearance. While it is only human to notice a new haircut or admire someone’s outfit, don’t forget to model other types of comments that are less surface level.
Be strategic about how you talk about the child’s body. Talk to them about the amazing functions of their body such as how it regulates temperature, fights germs, heals itself, processes food, eliminates waste, etc. Reference exercise as a way to move, feel alive, have fun, and take care of the body versus as a way to look different or lose weight. Even if the child has noticeably improved their physique, comment on how strong, happy, energetic, or healthy they look.
Be aware of how you talk about food and diets. In order for a child to have a healthy relationship with food, it is important that they do not associate guilt with consuming it. Rather than instilling fear, explain that some foods are packed with vitamins and nutrients and will give them more strength and energy than others. Teach your kids to cook and enjoy healthy choices. Fill the house with these options to model healthy eating without talking about it constantly. Lead by example demonstrating moderation versus taking the broad brush “good foods, bad foods” approach.
Know how to talk about sweets and treats. Some foods are treats and they are fine to eat within reason. It is important that children feel good eating an occasional treat rather than guilty, worried, or upset with their choices. Sweets in moderation add a fun element to life! Keep in mind that using treats as a crutch to overcome negative emotions instills a lifelong connection with comforting oneself with unhealthy food. Also, bribing or rewarding kids using food gives unhealthy snacks control and power. This is not to say that a child should never receive a treat for a job well done, but the messaging around these snacks should be celebratory versus self-medicating or coercive.
Watch what you say about yourself. Kids are listening to everything you are saying about your adult body. If you criticize your own weight, skin, facial features and body parts in front of the little ones, expect them to do the same. Here is a link to a video clip of daughters revealing some of the comments they have heard from their mothers.
In an amazing Huffington Post article by Sarah Koppelkam, How to talk to your daughter about her body, she offers suggestions that can be applied to the upbringing of our sons and daughter alike. Instilling a love of self in children starts from within the adult. Practicing self care is an important part of living deliberately. EnlightenMENTE’s Commit to Thrive is a six phase program that involves transforming all areas of one’s life to live with intention. Self-care is one of the components focused on within the health section. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of feeling worthy, confident, and proud. It positively impacts all areas of life.
Koppelkam, S., Huffington Post, How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body. July 27, 2017 https://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-koppelkam/body-image_b_3678534.html Retrieved April 29, 2018
Real Simple, What Your Daughter Hears When You Criticize Your Body, https://www.realsimple.com/health/mind-mood/emotional-health/kids-on-body-image Retrieved April 29, 2018