Raising Body Confident Kids

How parents can encourage positive body image?

Posted Jan 11, 2019

“My mother was always either on a diet, off a diet, or obsessing about food. She constantly complained about her body. She passed this struggle down to me and I don’t want to do the same to my children. I want better for them.”

This is a refrain that I hear often in my office. In fact, it is one of the most common reasons that people give for seeking treatment for eating issues and body image concerns.

For those of us who struggle with body image issues, we don’t want our children to follow in our footsteps. We know the pain of spending so much of our precious time, energy, and resources fighting against ourselves. Never wanting to be in the family pictures. Opting out of family meals. Not wanting to get out of the car at drop-off for fear that our kids will be embarrassed about us. Sitting at soccer games focused not on how our child is playing, but sizing up the other mothers, obsessing about who is thinner than us. And how they got that way. And what they must think of us.

It can be all consuming. Surely this is an albatross none of us want our children to carry. 

How do we break the cycle? How can we raise body confident children free from the shame that has plagued our generation?

It starts with us. Parents have a dramatic impact on their children’s body image.  Most of the research has been done on mothers and daughters, so that is what I'm going to talk about here. Experts believe that how a mother feels about her own body is one of the most important predictors for how a child will feel about her own body. If a mother is concerned with her weight, a daughter is more likely to be concerned about her weight. When there is open talk about weight and body bashing in the home (even when it’s not directed at the child), children struggle even more. And don’t even get me started with what happens when parents directly criticize their children’s body or put their kids on a diet. Let’s just say that this is the history of a lot of the adults that I see in my office.

So what is the most important thing that we can do to encourage healthy body image in our children?

Resolve our own body image issues. And most of us have them. Over 97 percent of women have at least one body-hating thought every single day. Ninety-one percent of women are dissatisfied with their body. These numbers are so high because body hatred is the natural outcome of our disordered culture. We are indoctrinated to believe that our bodies are flawed and that our value is determined by the size of our pants or the numbers on the scale. We need to unlearn these toxic beliefs and relearn how to trust our own bodies and make peace with ourselves.

If you are struggling with body hatred, feel stuck in wanting to lose weight, struggle with disordered eating or an eating disorder, or are searching for a healthier relationship with food and your body, I encourage you to seek out support from a licensed mental health professional specializing in eating disorders from a Health At Every Size® weight-inclusive perspective.