By Ann Luban, Community Services Program Specialist
Body image isn’t the shape of our bodies; it’s how we view our bodies. And negative body image can affect kids as young as four or five years old. Parents and other adults play a central role in how kids of all ages view their bodies and view themselves overall. It is critical that we act intentionally to support them in their development.
Listen. And Ask Questions.
Your 9 year old daughter just said, “I’m so fat.” Before you rush in with, “Oh no, honey, don’t say such things,” ask her why she said that. Is that what she thinks? Or did someone else say that about her? What does that even mean to her? Listening to her answers will help you know what to say next.
Be a Good Role Model.
If we want our children to have positive feelings about their bodies and to take care of their bodies, we need to take care of ourselves: eat well, get regular exercise and get enough sleep. Using family time to support better health for everyone can also be a lot of fun. Good examples are family bike rides or outings to a farmer’s market.
Talk about Media Awareness.
Sit down and watch your children’s’ favorite TV shows with them and talk about what you see and how the characters look, dress and relate to one another. Talk about the advertisements and how they promote what they are trying to sell. Be aware of what magazines and books are in the house and the messages they send.
Stock Up on Healthy Foods.
Be sure to have healthy snacks available to send to school, eat at home or take with you as you travel. It’s easier to limit bad choices when they aren’t as readily available.
Be Aware of What You Say.
How we talk about our own bodies affects how our children feel about theirs. Commenting on how fat those jeans make us look, or how our flabby our arms are, or how even good someone else looks because they are thin, reinforces the focus on weight and valuing specific body types. When you instead voice appreciation of physical capabilities in yourself or in your children –"Thanks for carrying that heavy bag for me," or "You ran so fast!" -- you are building a positive body image.
Ann Luban, MSW, MAJCS is the JCFS Community Services Program Specialist and works with BeTween: The Jewish Tween Girls Planning Initiative, made possible through funding from the Jewish Women’s Foundation.