As a child grows, he starts becoming conscious of his appearance. You will probably notice a change in the amount of time he spends in the bathroom and in front of the mirror. A negative image can cause anxiety. Parents have an important role to play in explaining to their kids the skewed body images propagated by the media and in steering them away from the idea of a perfect body.
Tips to Promote a Positive Self-image
Present a positive role model:
Children learn far more by observation. So start by loving yourself and the way you look. Talk about differences in body shape, type and complexion and how each person is beautiful in his/ her own way. Celebrate each difference.
Have a healthy attitude towards food:
Make healthy food a way of life. If you go on crash diets or fuss about certain kinds of foods, your child will follow suit. If you have to make certain health-related choices, make sure you explain them to your child. You could say, “I cannot have sugar because I am diabetic, or I cannot eat fried foods because I have a cholesterol problem. But you can, because you are young and active.”
Focus on health:
Provide healthy nutritious meals and stress on a healthy lifestyle. Avoid obsessing about weight. Explain the benefits of good health and the importance of staying active over temporary fixes like going on a diet.
Focus on achievements:
Talk about your own achievements and compliment your child on his. This will drive home the fact that there are other things to be happy and proud about rather than having a particular weight or looking a certain way. Compliments from you will boost his self-esteem making him less prone to negative feelings about himself.
Explain media messages:
Children have a right to know that media messages are not real. Tell your child how computer techniques are used to generate perfect pictures and how unreal Barbie figures are. Encourage him to discuss and ask questions. Help him analyse the truth in media messages and scale down his expectations on looks.
Focus on your child’s talents:
Praise your child’s talents and his other positive qualities. Make sure looks are never the focal point. Engender pride in his talents rather than his looks.
Talk to your child about body changes:
Explain to your child how his body changes during puberty. Tell him what to expect - that he might put on weight before his growth spurt. Expecting the changes will prevent him from worrying about them.
Seek professional help:
Peer pressure and media are two powerful influences. They can prompt your child to feel inadequate and lead him to dislike his appearance. Even though you are doing everything right at home, watch out for eating disorders. Do not hesitate to seek professional help if required.
Constantly worrying about one’s appearance might herald serious problems like Body Dismorphic Disorder. A healthy attitude and an active lifestyle can ensure that such situations don’t arise.