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Establishing Healthy Body Image for Small Children


Teaching our children to love themselves and how they look is an essential tool for helping them develop a healthy sense of self and a healthy body image.


Understanding health and wellness, talking about body shapes and sizes, and developing a health image are all steps to for our children to learn how to feel good about themselves. A healthy sense of self starts with understanding and accepting that all of us come in different shapes, sizes and colors. Acceptance that is modeled by parents and guardians is key. Also, limiting exposure to negative content about body image (either limiting their exposure to media or even making sure that we are keeping our reservations about our body image to ourselves) is a good place to start modeling health body image. Teach them about their bodies using the correct names for each of our body parts, talking about health and cleanliness, and teaching how to care for their bodies is another critical tool in helping them develop a healthy body image. Young people who feel good about themselves are more likely to feel more successful overall.

Kids in this age range will start noticing and talk about different body shapes and race. They will make comments about what people look like as they start to learn about their environment and the people in it. They will start to notice differences and similarities between people. They will ask why they look different from others and will make comments about what they see. These are perfect opportunities to talk about how people are different, the same, and how it is normal to be different shapes, sizes, and colors. Help them understand that it is not about how people look, but how people feel, act and treat themselves and others. Help them learn to be kind to everyone and to not judge based on how people look. Model healthy self-image – they are very sensitive to how we feel and can pick up if we are dissatisfied with how we feel about ourselves. Try to avoid making self-deprecating comments about how you feel about how you look – they will hear it even if you think they are not paying attention. Talk about health and wellness not about size and shape when making choices about food. Embrace diversity through active exploration of racially diverse communities.

 What you can do:

          When they say “look at him – he’s fat” you can respond with a statement like “He may be a different size than you but he has two toes and ten fingers just like you.” And then you can introduce the subject of how each of us is the same in some ways and different in some ways. 

          Become aware of any issues you may have with your own body image – we pass on our challenges to our kids when we are not aware of them

          Focus on health and wellness not size and shape when discussing what you eat and don’t eat

          Talk about diversity – how folks have not just different shapes but different skin color, different hair, etc… Embrace the differences and the similarities

         Teach acceptance of others based on how they treat others and themselves rather than how they look

         Teach your kids about themselves – use anatomically correct terms for body parts, teach them to identify how they are the same and different from others, and develop self-awareness and an appreciation of who they are


Conversation Starters:

         “That person is a different size than you. But look, they also have the same hair color as you do. Just because they are a different size than you doesn’t mean anything good or bad about them. All of us come in different sizes and shapes.”

        “Here are the different names of our different body parts. All os us have similar parts but sometimes they come in different shapes, sizes or colors. What do you notice that is different or same about us?”

          “Is it ok to tease someone about how they look? What feelings would you have if someone teased you about how you look?”

Signs to watch for:

         They are curious and ask questions about differences or similarities

         They will identify their body parts by name

        They will have a positive sense of self and show pride in how they look

        They will not tease others about how they look

        They understand making food choices is about health not about weight

         They know that people can look different and still get along

         They will engage in physical activity because it is fun



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