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How to avoid passing down body image issues to your child

It’s developmentally appropriate for kids to mimic what they see and hear from their parents. Call yourself fat on a daily basis? Your daughter is going to pick up on that. Complain that your arms are flabby or your hips are wide? Don’t be surprised if your child follows suit.
When we attack our appearance or fixate on what we don’t like about our bodies, we’re giving our children permission to do the same. If this all sounds too familiar, it’s important to realize there is a better way.
Body image basics
What is body image? It’s how you feel about your body. It’s the picture of your body that you hold in your mind, which may or may not be accurate. Children who have a healthy body image feel satisfied with their bodies. They’re comfortable in their own skin. Kids who have an unhealthy body image often focus only on their flaws.
Research suggests children begin forming opinions about their bodies as early as three years old. They see images portrayed in the media and hear comments about size and weight from friends and well-intentioned family. Maybe a loving relative calls your toddler “chubby cheeks,” or a grandparent playfully pinches your child’s baby fat. Kids can internalize those things.
The good news: Parents play a key role in helping children learn to love – and take care of – the bodies they have.
Body image boosting
Whatever your age, you’re more likely to have healthy self-esteem and emotional well-being when you feel good about your body. The good news: You can set the stage for a healthy body image with these six strategies:
Becoming body image aware
Don’t wait until your child is older to discuss body image issues. It’s important to realize that body image extends to self-esteem – and poor self-esteem is linked to depression and anxiety. Both of these mental health conditions can lead to disordered eating and weight gain.

Concerned? Here’s what to watch for:
If you notice your child exhibiting any of these signs, talk about your concerns. To some degree, preoccupation with body size and shape is normal, especially during puberty. But if body image issues begin to interfere with your child’s usual activities, friendships or willingness to attend social gatherings, loop in his or her pediatrician.

To find a pediatrician or make an appointment at Henry Ford, visit or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
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