How to raise a body-positive preschooler

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  Published on Wednesday, 04 April 2018

How to raise a body-positive preschooler

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & NutritionParenting & Family Life
  Published on Wednesday, 04 April 2018
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By the time they go to school, children's bodies have achieved great things. They've learned to run, jump, swim, dance, scoot, and much more; so, it's startling to hear that kids as young as five say they don't like their bodies.

Yes, according to the Children, Teens, Media and Body Image report released by Common Sense Media, many kids are dissatisfied with their physique. However, the good news is that parents can help children feel good about themselves and others from an early age.

To promote body-positivity in young children, educator Sierra Filucci recommends mums and dads to do these 5 things:

1. How to avoid stereotypes in your child' media

Focus on putting body-positive content on your preschooler's playlist. Look for TV shows, movies and other media that:

  • Portray healthy body sizes
  • Avoid sexualised or stereotypical storylines
  • Avoid gendered characters, like girls in make-up

Parents also play an important role in debunking stereotypes and using gender-neutral and gender-diverse language. For instance, send the message that boys might like dolls as much as dinosaurs, and don't assume that every brave animal on TV is a 'he'. It's great to see Tweak the female mechanic and Peso the gentle male medic in Octonauts.

2. Call out stereotypes when you see them

When you do notice gender stereotypes in the media, make a point of discussing them with your youngster and questioning how women and men are portrayed.

Ms Filucci also recommends a game of 'Spot the Photoshop!' to teach kids that advertising and magazine photos are altered by computers to make people look a certain way.

3. Challenge assumptions

As a parent, it's important to celebrate difference and teach children respect for all people. To help challenge physical assumptions:

  • Ask your child what they think about larger or slimmer characters on TV
  • Listen out for kids making assumptions about real people based on their body size
  • Remind your preschooler that humans come in all shapes and sizes and that variety is a normal and good thing
  • Ask your child how they think a TV character felt when another character criticised their appearance

4. Ban 'fat talk' in the family

How parents see themselves greatly affects how children think about their own bodies, so:

  • Take a positive attitude towards your own physique, saying why you appreciate your body
  • Watch your comments about other people's bodies and appearance
  • Encourage your child to be upbeat about what their body can do. For example ask, "How far can your strong legs take you?"
  • Discuss health instead of size or weight, e.g. talk about how you feel when you eat nutritious food

5. Focus on behaviour, talents and character traits instead of physical size or appearance

This means talking about the things people and characters do, not how they look. Parents send an important message by valuing qualities like curiosity, kindness and perseverance over appearance.

And because there will be times when your child hears others comparing, commenting on or criticising bodies, it helps to role-play ways your child can respond. For example, they might say, "I don't care what he looks like. He's nice, and that is what's important to me."

In summary, parents can shape children's body image attitudes and behaviours from a young age. Nurture them, educate them and think positive!

Click here to see the key findings in the Body Image report.

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Friday, 07 February 2020

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