It might seem like the most far off thing to imagine, as you watch your school-aged kid run around the park or concentrate on destroying a new level in their video game (I mean, super educational iPad app), but believe it or not, even if they're still young, there might already be plenty of signs your child has low self-esteem, or is already developing body image issues. Yes, even if you still consider them too young to even be aware that the term "body image" is a thing (which, to be fair, they might be), that doesn't mean they are exempt from this issue that seems to be creeping up on kids earlier and earlier.
Thanks to the big, bad, beautiful Internet, how the media affects self-esteem is an even more important factor for them than for us as adults. Kids get to see the Kardashian clan embrace plastic surgery like it's going out of style (isn't it, though?), and get to witness magazine covers telling them how disgusting the celebrities are who have gained weight and all of the "totally easy tricks" to have a "perfect body." You don't have to be a teenager to read between the lines and deduce that if a perfect body looks like that, and your body doesn't look like that, then your body is bad and wrong. It's a simple (yet, as we know, painfully effective) message. Basically, kids are getting it at every angle from a very young age, and as a result, your kid might be developing body image issues already.
But the problems with body image issues in the media go beyond some TV shows and magazine covers for kids. As we're well aware, kids are undiscerning sponges. They soak up (and keep) everything they see and hear. And thanks to them being kids, the good, the bad, and the outright bullsh*t all gets jumbled around in side of them in huge messes of misinformation and unhealthy ideas. This can so easily result in kids developing body images early on, starting them on what could be dangerous roads of self-loathing, real self-esteem problems, and even horrible things like disordered eating and self-harm.
The good news is, the earlier you catch these problems, the easier they are to fix. If you can pinpoint the signs yourself, maybe you can nip this dilemma in the bud for your kid and/or get them outside, professional help and guidance. If nothing else, it's at least worth keeping an eye on.
1. They Only Focus On Their Physical Imperfections
Gone are the days of worrying about grades or whether or not they have enough friends. Instead, your kid is worried about those pretty much nonexistent love handles and that tiny bubble of a pimple that recently popped up on their chin.
2. They're Quick To Notice The Excess / Lack Of Weight In Others
If your kid is developing body issues already, then you had better believe that they're looking at everyone around them to compare their own body. There's nothing wrong with a little appreciation for other people's awesome bodies, but when your kid's attention turns from being amazed by what they see various bodies doing and turns into an almost obsession with how bodies look (especially if they saying things about wishing they had so-and-so's legs or arms), then it's possible something much more serious is fueling those thoughts.
3. They Start Refusing Favorite Snacks
OK, I'm not going to say that you need to ply your kid with fist-fulls of fruit snack packets or bowls of cheese balls, but the thing about childhood is that we, the parents, are supposed to be worrying about the physical effects of the food going into our kids' mouths. They're just supposed to want what tastes good. If you notice your kid starting to reconsider, like, the calories in a snack they used to love, it might be time to have a conversation.
4. You Catch Them Scrutinizing Themselves In The Mirror More Often
Part of having body image issues, for some people, involves spending hours nitpicking at yourself in front of the mirror. If you catch your kid attaching themselves to the mirror much more than they used to, criticizing themselves instead of admiring anything about their reflection, then it's definitely a sign to pump the breaks.
5. They Start Getting Upset About Finding Clothes To Wear
There's nothing wrong with good grooming, or wanting to look presentable. And obviously, at a certain age, "I have nothing to wear" meltdown are just going to happen. But when your kid (especially a young child) gets to the point of trying on countless outfits because, to them, absolutely nothing looks even remotely acceptable on their body, then it's time to care a little less about those piles of clean clothes on the bedroom floor and care more about the meaning behind them.
6. They're Already Talking About Dieting
Thanks to the kind of talk about food and body that so many adults tend to engage in with other adults, our kids will often get to hear about all of it. I'm not here to tell you not to diet (you're an adult; live your own journey), but whether it's from you, TV, or anywhere else, it's possible for your young kids to know that diets are a thing, and that ultimately they're designed to make bodies that are "wrong" become "right."
7. Working Out Is Suddenly Above All Else
Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy, and exercise is as awesome for kids as it is for adults, but...there's a limit. For little kids in particular, exercise should be a byproduct, from their perspective, of doing things that are fun, like riding a bike or jumping on a trampoline. It could be a problem if a kid is trying to push their body in the gym for the sake of changing it.
8. They're Always Comparing Their Body To Others People
This is another thing that we adults tend to do. Even if you personally don't compare your body to anyone else's (at least not out loud, in front of your kids), you can be sure that they're still going to be exposed to the practice of comparing bodies and evaluating worth accordingly from somewhere else. It's important to monitor whether or not those messages are taking root in your way-too-young-for-that-sh*t kid's brain.
9. They're Mimicking The "I'm So Fat" Behavior
Again, even if you don't bemoan your weight, your kids will probably hear someone do it, and it might stick with them. When it comes to your kid, hearing that little squeaky voice talk about how "fat" they are is just heartbreaking.
10. They Have Been Eating Less At Meals
This probably goes without saying, but your kid might be developing body image and self-esteem issues if they're skipping meals or eat smaller portions, especially if those things are happening in conjunction with other signs on this list. Come on, didn't we learn anything from DJ Tanner?
11. They're Quick To Tie Guilt To Food
I can't even count how many times I've heard someone refer to chocolate or dessert items as "guilty pleasures" or feeling guilty, period, for indulging in something less than healthy. This is another type of behavior that kids catch onto, resulting in unhealthy eating habits that are way more damaging that snacking on a Kit-Kat every now and then.
While sometimes it might be hard to identify the signs that your kid might have low self-esteem or be developing body image issues, the important thing is that you're diligent in identifying them and catching them as early as possible, without reading too much into every weird little thing they do. Because kids are weird. And they'll say and do weird things, and suddenly hate foods they used to love, and say things about themselves that might seem alarming with the grown-up context we give them, but that might not mean anything to your kid. It's really just so hard to know what's just normal childhood fickleness, and what's symptomatic of the start of a real problem. All you can really do is love them, watch them, try to send them positive messages about their body, and get into their business as much as possible. That's what you're there for, right? To be totally annoying and completely involved as a parent.