Raising a Kid with a Positive Body Image: 5 Tips for Parents

Raising Kids with a Positive Body Image

How to help your kid be happy and secure in a media-heavy, appearance-obsessed culture.

Sierra FilucciCommon Sense Media logo
Common Sense Media
Executive Editor, Parenting Content | Mom of Two

How’s this for a scary statistic: Studies show that kids as young as 5 say they don’t like their bodies.

bodypositive-blogCommon Sense Media’s survey of body-image research shows that parents play a huge role in shaping how kids think and feel about their bodies. Starting to bolster kids’ body image early, even in preschool, can make a big difference in how kids feel about themselves as they grow up.

Here are five ways to immunize your kids against poor body image, with conversation starters, media picks, and resources to support your discussions.

Avoid stereotypes in your kids’ media — starting when kids are in preschool. Look for TV shows, movies, and other media that portray healthy body sizes and avoid sexualized or stereotypical story lines or gendered characters, such as young girls in makeup or boys who are always macho.

  • Pay attention to kids’ beliefs about gender and body types, and use simple language to debunk stereotypes: “What do you think Andy would like for his birthday? Trucks? Do you think he’d like dolls, too?”
  • Whenever possible, use gender-neutral or gender-diverse pronouns to reference characters, animals, and so on. For example, not every dinosaur is a “he” and every kitten a “she.”

RESOURCES: Books That Promote a Healthy Body Image8 Girl-Power Apps for Young KidsPositive Role Model TV for GirlsTV That’s Good for Boys

Call out stereotypes when you see them. When you see gender stereotypes in media — for example, during sporting events such as the Super Bowl — talk about them.

  • As much as possible, minimize exposure to stereotypical depictions of men and women, but when kids see them, demonstrate that questioning how men and women are portrayed is valuable (and even fun). Ask: “Do you think she’s cold in that bikini?”
  • Teach kids how magazine and advertising photos are changed by computers to make skin look smoother or people look taller. Make a game out of it: Spot the Photoshop!

RESOURCES: What Are Boys Learning from the Super Bowl?The Ugly Truth Behind Pretty Pictures

Challenge assumptions. Ask kids what they think about heavyset or slim toys or characters on TV and in movies. Keep an ear out for kids expressing assumptions about real people based on their body sizes.

  • Remind kids that bodies come in all shapes and sizes (even Barbie now offers size and ethnic variety!) — even if they don’t see that on TV — and that variety is normal, healthy, and part of what makes life interesting.
  • Tap into preschoolers’ ability to empathize by asking how they think a TV character felt when criticized for his or her appearance. Ask: “How would you feel if someone teased you like that?”

RESOURCES: Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image Infographic

Ban “fat talk” in your family. Parents — especially mothers — who complain about their appearances or bodies, even casually, make a big impact on how their kids think about their bodies.

  • Model a positive attitude toward your own body, and encourage kids to think positively about what their bodies can do. Ask: “What can you do with those strong arms?”
  • Discuss health instead of weight or size. Ask: “How does your body feel when you play sports/exercise/run around?” Say: “My body feels so energetic when I eat healthy food.”

FACTS: According to Common Sense Media’s Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image, kids who think their moms don’t like their bodies end up not liking their own bodies. And girls whose dads are critical of their weight tend to think of themselves as less physically able than those whose dads don’t.

Focus on behavior, talents, and character traits instead of physical size or appearance. When discussing fictional characters, celebrities, and friends and family, talk about what they do, not what they look like.

  • Talk about qualities such as kindness, curiosity, and perseverance that you value more than appearance. Ask: “What makes a good friend?” Say: “She must have practiced for a long time to be good at dancing!”
  • Prepare kids for when they hear others commenting, comparing, or criticizing bodies or appearance. Role-play situations where kids can try out different responses, such as, “I don’t care what she looks like. She’s friendly, and that’s what matters to me.”

RESOURCES: Girls and Body Image Family Tip SheetBoys and Body Image Family Tip SheetBoys, Girls, and Media Messages

SierraFilucciAbout Sierra Filucci

Sierra has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade, with a special interest in women’s and family subjects. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley,… Read more

View all posts by Sierra Filucci here.

This post was originally posted by Common Sense Media on 2/15/16.

Common Sense MediaAbout Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, visit us at www.commonsense.org.

11 Comments on “Raising a Kid with a Positive Body Image: 5 Tips for Parents”

  1. My father told me as a child to never judge another person till you have walked in their shoes,we don’t know where they been and how rough the road has been for them.

  2. That is something my parents taught us at an early age. They told us to never make fun of people for any reason and to treat all people the same regardless of size, shape, looks, etc. I had the best parent’s in the world!

  3. Great article. I need to remember these points. I try not to talk bad about myself in front of my girls but little ears hear everything and I need to be better at it

    1. Those little ears sure do hear everything! Glad you liked the post, Desirae. Thanks for visiting and for the comment.

  4. Great points! I try to do this but you highlight a few I hadn’t thought of before. I’m not always sure what to do when extended family or friends use terms I try to avoid. It’s hard for them to unlearn those things once they’ve heard them.

    1. Glad you found this helpful, Holly. We’re also glad to hear that you and your family are already conscious of this. If you know your kids have overheard extended family or friends use terms that you think are insensitive, then maybe it would help to talk to your kids about it afterwards. Could be a good learning experience? Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  5. Great article. We don’t talk about fat or thin about our bodies. Everyone is the same, inside and out, no matter if they are big, small, tall or short. :) Everyone has feelings.

    1. Glad you enjoyed this! It sounds like you and your family are already doing a great job with this!

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