Girls who are as young as 3 years old can already perceive heaviness as “bad” and thinness as “good,” and over one-third of 5-year-olds abstain from eating to stay thin.
More children today have eating disorders than Type 2 diabetes and nearly 1 in 3 high school girls as well as 1 in 6 high school boys have disordered eating patterns that are serious enough to warrant medical help.
In another study, it was discovered that 1 in 8 girls have made themselves vomit at least once in the past three months.
If you or a parent in your life wants to know more about how to handle a situation like this, we have a few pointers from psychologists, pediatricians, eating disorder experts, researchers as well as authors who shared their thoughts on how to broach the topic of bodies with children.
The most important thing you can do? Do not, ever, ever, ever comment on your child’s weight — even if you believe it is constructive.
“It’s never helpful,” says Clay Jones, a Massachusetts-based pediatrician.
Emphasizing a child’s weight reinforces the idea that thinness is a vital ideal — and this is a message they already receive from TV, books, movies, teachers as well as friends.
And the pressure to be thin can make children – even those who are skinny – self-conscious, lower their self-esteem, and increase the risk of depression.
Researches found in 42 studies across the board how encouraging children to lose weight and/or criticizing their weight incites negative self-perceptions and disordered eating.
It is totally normal to want your children to be healthy but weight does not need to be apart of the discussion when it comes to health and fitness.
Developmental Psychologist, Jennifer Harriger, studies body image and weight stigma at Pepperdine University.
Harriger says the best thing to do is to not point the blame at children at all.
And if you are concerned as a parent about your child’s health, you can set new family goals that encourage healthy behavior.
“Say, ‘I think as a family it would be a really great idea if we all go for walks more often,’ or ‘Let’s go take a hike together this weekend,’ ” Harriger shares.
It is also important to stop labeling foods as “good” or bad,” because moralizing food in this way reinforces the idea that what people decide to eat reflects on their value or character.
Another important fact that parents should adhere to is to stop emphasizing appearance with our children — and this is especially so for our girls as girls hear look-related comments way more than boys.
This is because when we comment on girls appearances, we are actually telling them how their looks are their most noticeable and valuable assets.
It is also recommended that if others comment on your daughter’s looks to consider re-framing the message in your response.
“Take the opportunity to teach a little lesson in a kind and thoughtful way: ‘There are lots more interesting things to talk about than our looks! Did you know we recently went on vacation?’ ” says the director of Beauty Redefined, Lexie Kite.
And as best as you can, it is recommended that parents refrain from making comments about other people’s bodies, even if the remarks seem like compliments such as, “Did you lose weight? You look great!“
But this is not to say you cannot or should not discuss with your kids the subject of bodies and body image.
“Don’t pretend like your daughter’s body doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter—teach her that it matters a lot, but not for the reasons she’s been taught,” Kite shares “Teach her to understand and relate to her body from the inside—how it feels and what it can do—not just how it appears.”
You can discuss with your daughter how amazing it is that her body can do run fast in a game of tag, how her voice can hit multiple notes and how she swings a bat makes her strong and powerful.
And while it is very normal for children to want to look nice — it is important to insert other values into your conversation.
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