Print This Page SparkPeople

Help Your Kids Love Their Bodies

Parent-Child Activities for Better Body Image
  -- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
Playing, friends, and homework are among the top things a kid thinks about during a day. But increasingly, one's body shape, size and appearance are competing thoughts. According to Kathy Kater, author of the book Real Kids Come in All Sizes (2004, Broadway Books), kids today are more worried than ever about their size. According to her book, nearly half of third- to sixth-grade girls of normal weight say they want to be thinner. And one-third of them have already restricted their eating to lose weight while 78 percent express fear of becoming fat. Females aren’t the only ones to succumb to the pressure to conform to a certain standard. Kater explains that the lean, sculpted male physique is increasingly presented as normal, causing young males to develop body image and eating problems, and worry when they don't have a six-pack.

Ironically, just as this preoccupation with body size is taking over the psyche of our youth, the health of our nation's children is plummeting. For the first time in two centuries, the current generation of American kids may have shorter life expectancies than their parents, according to a new report published in The New England Journal of Medicine. This anticipated drop is primarily due to the prevalence and severity of childhood obesity and its associated complications. So what’s a parent to do? How do you promote a healthy body size without instilling a preoccupation with it? You have to nurture a healthy body image.

“Body Image” is a term used to describe a person's perception of his or her own physical appearance. Someone with a healthy body image accepts his or her body as it is, while someone with an unhealthy body image sees his or her body as being unattractive or even repulsive. There is a broad spectrum of body image issues plaguing youth, and it is a complex problem without a quick fix. However, there are ways to prevent body image issues in your kids. To help your child achieve and maintain a healthy image of her body, it is important to first understand the combination of influences that contribute to an unhealthy body image in the first place. Then you can arm yourself with strategies to overcome them.

There are many influences that contribute to the unhealthy body image in youth, but one influence stands above the rest: the media. Open any magazine and you’re sure to find unrealistic ideals of beauty that could make anyone feel inferior. Turn on the television or a movie and you’ll see more of the same. But the answer is not to shelter your kids from these images. It is to help them understand them.

According to Kater, there are four common myths that parents need to address with their kids. Use the tips and activities below to combat negative influences and nurture the seeds of a healthy body image.

Myth #1: "How I look is more important than who I am.”
Myth #2: “Everyone can be thin if they work hard enough.”
Myth #3: “Dieting is effective.”
Myth #4: “Eating healthy and exercising is too hard, and no fun!”
Even when kids eat healthy foods and get plenty of exercise, there will still be a variety of body types, shapes and sizes. By teaching your children to accept and appreciate this diversity, they will become more accepting of themselves.