Just as you teach your children values about sharing or self-care, it's never to early to instill messages about body positivity. Recently, Parents published an article about how valuable it is to talk to your child about body image. But what do you say? And when do you start talking to your kids about bodies?
I spoke to Judith C. Kuppersmith, a New York-based psychologist, for her guidance about when and how to start this important dialogue. She explains the body image awareness begins before babies are even verbal, noting that "the psychological birth of the infant begins at around three months when infants begin to experience their bodies as separate from their caregivers." Kuppersmith also suggests that the relationship between touch and talk equally contributes to the body image of children. Scholastic's Early Childhood Today guide to ages and stages of body awareness confirms that newborns have an "emerging, unconscious 'body sense' [that helps them] orient" themselves in the world.
So, as a parent, you should realize that you're dealing with body image development from an early age. Having struggled with body image myself, I interviewed several moms for their advice on explaining body image to children. Because knowing how to communicate healthy messages about bodies to children is an important skill to have in your parenting kit.
1. Censor Self-Deprecating Quips
Nora Zelevanksky, a novelist in Brooklyn, says it's important to look at that way you talk about your own body before lecturing a child on how to talk abotu theirs. "For me, at least for now, it's less about saying something specific and more about censoring my own bad habits," she says. "Those flippant comments about looking fat can no longer be written off as harmless self-deprecating quips. I'm learning to become conscious of my own language and what I say, not just around my daughter, but just in general." Bottom line: the things you don't say are just as important when it comes to talking to your child about body image.
2. Talk About How Food Nourishes Your Body
"I try not to say anything about feeling overweight about me or anyone else," Adrianne Fiala McGill, a mental health counselor and mother, says. "We do talk about things that are in our tummy like the food we just ate. Like after we eat our barriga (belly) is full of chicken or soup." It's importatnt to remind children that food is fuel to build a strong body.
3. Talk About The Body As Sacred
Kuppersmith elaborates on how sacred the body is, something I think women often forget because they're always obsessed with fixing perceived flaws. "We need to be consciously demonstrating the sacredness of the body and the sacredness of what we say to ourselves and to others about our physical embodiment in both personal and social space," she says. Finding cool ways to celebrate body sacredness should be fun.
4. Emphasize What Bodies Can Do, As Opposed To Just What They Look Like
When I was a kid, my parents encouraged me to engage in fun outdoor activities. Not because they wanted me to be active, but because they wanted me to see what my body could do rather than how it looked. Mayo Clinic confirms that as your child gets older, it's important for her not just to be active, but to get physical with friends who have the same mindset.
5. Encourage Your Child To Feel Comfortable In His Or Her Skin
As the mother of a 9-year-old boy, I feel double duty when it comes to talking about body image," Avital Norman Nathman, freelance writer and editor of The Good Mother Myth says. "First, I want my son to feel confident and comfortable in his own body, so we're careful about the ways we talk about bodies and food in our house." Parents also emphasized that primary caregivers, above "pediatricians, teachers, or coaches" have the most influence in making kids feel comfortable in their skin.
6. Talk Frankly About Bodies
Norman Nathman adds that it's important for her song to see her talk openly and honestly about her body. "My hope is to normalize what bodies are so he grows up knowing there are all shapes, sizes, and abilities, and all of them are good bodies." In the same vein, when you talk about your child's body parts, it's important to call each body part by its proper name.
7. Counter The Negative Body Image Messages In The Media
"Children don't need our help to develop a negative body image," Emily Lindin of The UnSlut Project says. "The messages they receive from advertisements, friends, and the media do that work anyway." Because of this, Lindin says it's important to counteract those harmful messages. Be sure to speak back to negativity kids can absorb outside (and let's face it, inside) the home.
8. Emphasize The Importance Od Body Respect
R-E-S-P-E-C-T is a word tots are taught early on. It's valuable for them to know "the body is the physical source of every human’s sense of themselves," explains Kuppersmith. She suggests that parents teach their children to talk about their bodies with respect, empathy, and compassion about what bodies can do.
9. Model Body Positivity
"I think the most effective tool in my Mama Kit is modeling: positive body image, self-esteem, and self- care," Wendy Chin-Tanner, teacher, poet, and writer, says. "Like most women, I have body issues, but I do my best to bite my tongue about them in front of my daughters." I'd say that's some model advice. It's not just what you say to your child, but how you act, because to your kids, you're their whole world.