Wanting our children to feel good about their bodies is definitely a big mom goal. It's not easy. Our kids are bombarded by photos of "ideal bodies" from watching TV to reading magazines and continuing in a big way as they start become more active on social media, where a great bikini shot is the pinnacle of teen Insta achievement. Given all of this, it's good to be aware of the signs your child may have body image problems.
Once the territory of older teens and adults, body image issues are cropping up earlier and earlier, in both girls and boys. Some of the signs may be obvious and can include eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, but others can be more subtle. Dr. Diane DiGiacomo, a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist in New York, has said in an interview with Romper, body image issues aren't always restricted to weight or tied into eating. Some children might be concerned about the size of their nose or the shape of their teeth. Dr. DiGiacomo also warns that sometimes a fixation with something on their body or a repetitive action, such as picking of fingernails or pulling of hair can be rooted in anxiety or obessive-compulsive disorder.
Michelle Viña-Baltsas, a certified intuitive eating counselor and body image specialist, feels that communication and awareness are the key to helping a child who may have body image issues. "The more conversations you can have with your children to determine what’s motivating their decisions, the better," Viña-Baltsas says, via email with Romper.
Here are a few things you may look for in your child if you are worried they might have body image issues. If you feel that your child's behavior is affecting their performance in school or their overall health, it's good to seek professional counseling for them, including cognitive behavioral therapy, a method that creates coping strategies by retraining a person's thinking and behavior. You can start with your pediatrician, who may have names of professionals that they can give you.
1. Severely Restricting Certain Types Of Food
This can include your child's decision to suddenly become vegan or gluten-free. Viña-Baltsas says, "What’s important is understanding the motivation behind wanting to make such dramatic changes to one’s diet. If they have ethical objections to eating animal protein, they are entitled to their own opinions. However, be sure that their desire to do this type of diet is not simply to potentially reduce their caloric intake."
2. Constantly Talking About Their Body
Dr. DiGiacomo warns that if your child keeps talking about the same body concern or seems overly focused on things that are not obvious to you, you might want to take that as a cue that they could use some help.
3. Dressing In Baggier, Shapeless Clothing
Even in warm weather, some children who are worried about their bodies may try to do everything they can to cover them up, according to Viña-Baltsas. They can also be using this to mask any weight loss that is brought on by an eating disorder.
4. Frequently Looking In The Mirror
This goes hand in hand with other signs, but Dr. DiGiacomo says that it's helpful to notice if your child seems to be analyzing their reflection much more than they have in the past.
5. Excessively Comparing Themselves To Others
In this Instagram and Snapchat world, it's easy for this to happen. Similarly, Viña-Baltsas says to look out for a child who doesn't want to be photographed because of the way they look.
When a child refrains from other social events in order to fit in their workouts or if they seem to be pushing themselves to the point of exhaustion, Viña-Baltsas says this can be due to body image issues, especially when they express the desire to do this to "work off" all the food they have eaten.
7. Finding Little Joy In Eating
Eating is a way to nourish your body and can also be a social experience. Viña-Baltsas says it's helpful to notice if your child suddenly becomes preoccupied with or confused by what they are eating, the amount they are eating, or if they become afraid of eating.
If you know if someone who needs help, The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) Helpline is available Monday-Thursday from 9AM to 9PM ET, and Friday from 9AM to 5PM ET. Contact the Helpline for support, resources and treatment options for yourself or a loved one.
For any crisis situation, text "NEDA" to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line.
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