Body Image: Children
Body image and children
Body image is how a child feels about and sees their body. It can relate to body size or shape, skin colour, appearance, facial features or physical disabilities/differences.
A positive body image supports physical and mental health. It can boost confidence and help children develop a healthy image of themselves. A negative body image or body dissatisfaction can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and poor self-perception. It can also affect learning, participation and school achievement, lead to unhealthy eating practices and increase the risk of developing eating disorders in later life.
For young children, attitudes about body shape and size can start as early as three or four years old, when they are already becoming aware of societal pressures to look a certain way. Family and cultural/community attitudes and opinions about what is ‘normal’ for both boys and girls will also influence a child’s view of how they feel and think about themselves and others.
Spotting the signs
- From a young age many children start to equate ‘fat’ with ‘bad’.
- Children might start to refuse types of food because ‘it makes me fat’.
- They might comment on the body size/shape of their favourite celebrities and/or TV/film/book characters.
- They might say that a friend or peer has said something negative about how they look or teased them about their appearance.
- They might want to cover up parts of their body because they feel self-conscious.
- They may not want to change for PE.
Your body image plays a role in how your children see themselves. Studies show that daughters are twice as likely to have ideas about dieting when their mothers diet. If you want to lose weight to get healthy, pay attention to the language that you use with your kids. Rather than talking about “dieting,” explain that you are eating healthy foods. Together with your family, cook healthy meals, order healthy meals at restaurants, and get more physical activity. Teach your children about smart food choices and help them develop healthy eating and exercise habits.
You can help your children develop healthy body images by:
- Making sure your children understand that weight gain and growth are normal parts of development, especially during puberty
- Not making negative statements about food, weight, and body size and shape — yours, your children’s, or anyone else’s
- Allowing your children to make decisions about food while making sure that plenty of healthy and nutritious meals and snacks are available
- Complimenting your children more on their efforts, talents, accomplishments, and personal values and less on their looks
- Limiting screen time. In addition to getting less exercise, kids who watch TV shows or movies or play online games often see unrealistic female bodies. Talk with kids about the media images you see.
- Encouraging your children’s school to create policies against bullying
- Talking to your children often and showing them that you’re always there to listen
You may be teaching your kids harmful habits if you:
- Often complain about your weight or your body shape
- Often try new “miracle” diets
- Tell your kids they would be more attractive if they lost weight
Free 24-hour helpline for children and young people in the UK.
020 7089 5050 (general enquiries)
0808 802 5544 (parents helpline, for any adult with concerns about the mental health of a child or young person)
National charity committed to improving the mental health of all babies, children and young people. Provides information for both parents and young people.
Parenting and Family Support- Family Lives (formerly Parentline Plus)
Helpline: 0808 800 2222
Support to anyone parenting a child.
Anorexia & Bulimia Care
Family and Friends Helpline: 03000 111213
Helpline: 0808 801 0677
Helpline: 0808 800 2222
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