Expert Q&A

Body image: Tips for instilling positive feelings

My six-year-old thinks she is fat.  She is a normal weight, and I am afraid she is being affected at this young age by the media.  What should I do?

-Paula from District of Columbia

You are right to be concerned about the effect media can have on your daughter’s self-image.  Media heavily promote unhealthy foods while at the same time telling people they need to lose weight and be thin.  Studies show that girls of all ages worry about their weight. Many of them are starting to diet at early ages.  I applaud you for noticing these signs early and choosing to seek advice, rather than just hoping this will go away.  Here are some tips for taking the emphasis off physical appearance and helping your daughter see herself for the beautiful little miracle that she is.  If you try these suggestions and your daughter continues to express concerns about her weight or shows signs of limiting food intake, consult a professional immediately. 

Select magazines carefully

Do not bring magazines that glorify being very thin into house.

Monitor the television shows and commercials she watches

Discuss how these are not real, and that the people she is seeing don’t really look like that.  Those who do are very unhealthy and are not taking care of their bodies.

Teach her to regard her body as an amazing machine

Help her understand that her body is a machine that requires fuel and maintenance. Also, emphasize that healthy eating and exercise will help her keep that machine working its best.

Do not dismiss her negative comments

When she makes negative comments about her shape or size, do not dismiss them even if they seem irrational.  Rather, start a discussion about why she feels this way.

Be generous with praise

Look for situations in which your daughter is doing a good job or displaying a talent.  When she completes a task or chore you could say, "I really like the way you straightened your room."  Don't be afraid to give her praise often, even in front of family or friends.  Also, use praise to point out positive character traits.  For instance, "You are a very kind person" or "I like the way you keep trying even when something is hard for you to do."  You can even praise her for something she did not do such as "I really liked how you accepted my answer of 'no' and didn't lose your temper."

Teach her to practice making positive self-statements

Self-talk is very important in everything we do.  What we think determines how we feel and how we feel determines how we behave.  Teach her to say “I am kind,” “I am smart,” “I have pretty hair,” or whatever she believes about herself.

Talk about your own body with pride

Do not say things like, “I am fat, I need to lose weight, I wish I looked like…”.

Model a healthy relationship with food

Eat healthfully, but don’t diet.

Stock your house with healthy foods

Keep healthy food in your house and encourage involvement in meal preparation.

For more information on children and the risk for eating disorders see the following article from TheDietChannel: Is Your Child At Risk For an Eating Disorder.

Erica Lesperance, RD, LD
Contributing Expert

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