As a parent, you want your children to feel strong and confident. One way to help them develop a positive sense of self is to teach and encourage healthy habits. Healthy habits help them build strong minds and bodies and remind them that happiness comes from the inside out.
We know that the early years are critical for children’s development, and research suggests children as early as 3 years old begin to develop an awareness of their bodies alongside physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development. Body image is learned from many different sources, but as a parent, you play a key role in helping your children develop a healthy view of their bodies.
Children learn from watching you, so it’s important that you model a healthy self-image as well. The best way to do this is to practice healthy habits as a family. Here are some of our favorite suggestions to help instill a positive body image in young children.
Talk About Food as Fuel
Meal prep is a great way to get everyone in the kitchen and teach children about where food comes from. If they’re involved in helping put together a meal or making a healthy snack, they’ll be more likely to eat and enjoy what they made. Plus, cooking together as a family is fun!
When talking about food, it’s important to focus on food as it relates to health. Teach your children that healthy foods give us the energy and fuel our bodies need to play and have fun. To help them develop a healthy relationship with food, avoid using labels like “good” or “bad.” Food shouldn’t feel prohibitive. There is food that nourishes our bodies, and then there is food that we enjoy in moderation, like birthday cake with friends and family.
Regular physical activity is a great way to get moving as a family. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), toddlers (12-36 months old) should participate in at least 30 minutes of daily structured physical activity, while preschoolers need at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity each day.
When exercising with your little ones, make sure it’s enjoyable so everyone has fun. Here are some ideas to make physical activity a regular part of your family’s schedule.
- Yoga: Yoga is a fun option for indoor movement. Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube has fun yoga adventures to do as a family. They meet fun characters while being completely engaged in yoga poses.
- Dance: Dance parties are a great way to burn off energy, especially when the weather is bad. Change up the tunes so everyone gets to choose a song.
- Walks: Take a walk around the neighborhood after dinner. It’s a great time to talk with your children about their days, what they learned, etc., while being active.
- Relay races: These are simple ways to create movement and require very little prep! For a fun winter twist, have the children waddle like penguins (for preschool and school-age children, have them try to walk holding a ball between their legs) or pretend they are ice skating!
Importantly, let your children engage in the physical activities that they enjoy, and change up the ways in which you are active. The important thing is that they are moving and learning that it is fun!
Use Positive Language
Another important aspect of encouraging body positivity in young children is to make sure you’re using the right language. Use positive language that speaks to what their bodies can do rather than focusing on appearance. For example, “Does your body feel strong after yoga, or does your body feel happy after our family walks?”
Additionally, when talking about people such as friends or favorite fictional characters, ask your children about the qualities they possess. This is a great way to teach them to value character traits over appearance. Practice positive affirmations with your children too! What qualities do they love about themselves? Avoid comparing your children to one another or to classmates.
These three tips are just a few ways to you can help your children develop a positive body image and strong self-esteem. As a parent, the way you speak about body image can have a tremendous influence on your children, so it’s important to be a good body image role model.
Body image impacts your children’s confidence, identity, and their entire self-image, all of which play a role in social-emotional development. For more ways to empower your children to be the best they can be in the classroom and in life, follow our blog.