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revised June 10, 2011

Arrow Bullet8 Ways to Foster Healthy Body Image in Children & Teens

1. Build Healthy Self-Esteem

In our culture body image and self-esteem are so entangled.

Q: Amy, age 6, is taller and bigger than all her friends. Many people - from relatives to store clerks - comment on how tall or how big she is and how fast she's growing.
Amy is becoming self-conscious and asks her Dad if she will always be different from everyone else.

A: Amy's Dad might say: "Each person has his own special clock inside that tells her body how fast and how big to grow. In our family most of us are big and tall. This means we are strong and can do many things.
Being different is sometimes difficult because other kids tease you. It's more important to be good people than to be all the same.

Let your child know she is loved and valued for who she is. Focus on qualities such as her loving personality, being a good friend, having a great imagination, or being kind to animals - instead of weight and appearance.

See also: Building Self-Esteem
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2. Educate Yourself

A generation or more has grown up seeing worry about weight and frequent dieting as the "norm" for girls and women.
  • Explore your own attitudes about weight and shape.
  • Learn about the role of genetic makeup in body size and why diets don't work.
  • Consider why girls and women have come to feel so guilty about doing something as natural as eating.
See also: Healthy body image
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3. Counter Unhealthy Media

"Shape your body... shape your life."

"Thin is the only size to be - as long as you have buns of steel and 6 pack abs."

Help kids see that the images in magazines, TV and movies are altered in many ways to "appear" perfect and sell more products - no one looks like that in real life, not even the models themselves.

The media also has a strong influence on the foods children choose for themselves and urge their parents to buy.
  • Reinforce that success is not the way you look or the number on the scale.
  • In the real world people come in many shapes, sizes, colours and abilities.
  • Look for magazines and other media that display diversity.
  • For help to make informed choices when you shop, see eating well.
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4. Encourage Physical Activity

"Robbie, age 8, is a bookworm and a computer whiz - sports just don't interest him."

Children who do not like organized or team sports often enjoy individual or family activities. Parents can plan activities such as:
  • Bike rides
  • Weekend hikes - rock collecting
  • Swimming or skating
  • Playing catch or flying a kite in the park
Regular physical activity has so many benefits - healthy body image is definitely one of them! Figure out what moves you and your children.
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5. Teach Your
Child Ways to Handle Teasing and Pressure

Q: Lindsay, age 12, tells her parent she doesn't want much for lunch because other kids are teasing her about getting fat.

A: Lindsay's parent might tell her that:
  • She is loved and respected for the person she is.
  • She doesn't have to accept teasing or negative
    messages from others.
  • She can stick up for herself by using "I" messages such as: "I don't accept that".
  • She could think about better ways to take care of her body (than, for example, skipping meals). See Eating well.

Avoid making comments or teasing about weight and shape yourself. A child or teen who is feeling self-conscious and vulnerable about body image may take even mild comments very seriously.

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6. Help Your Children Learn About and Adjust to the Changes
of Puberty

Q: Why am I getting breasts before all my friends?
A: Check out the facts together...

Q: I keep growing taller - I hate being so skinny.
A: Just by being a good listener you'll help your child handle the natural anxiety that comes with so much change.

Q: Why am I getting all these pimples?
A: Respect pre-teens and teens needs for privacy when bathing or changing.
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7. Provide a Range of Food Choices and Healthy Snacks

See Eating well
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8. Choose
Coaches who Promote Healthy Body Image

  • In recreational sports, ensure your child's coaches value participation and fitness over body shape and winning.
  • If your child is involved in competitive training in dance or a sport where a certain body type or weight is considered more likely to succeed (e.g. gymnastics, figure skating, wrestling), there is added risk for body image problems.
  • Whatever the level of interest, build healthy self-esteem to provide your child with a secure identity as a person first and a performer or athlete second.
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If You Feel Your Child Has a Serious Body Image Problem...

  • Let your child know that you care and are concerned about his/her health.
  • Do not blame your child or yourself. Blaming doesn't help.
  • Avoid comments on appearance and power struggles over food or eating.
  • Call Peel Public Health or contact the Central West Eating Disorders Program (cwedp.ca) or the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (nedic.ca).
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Revised: June 10, 2011


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