The way you talk about your own body and your own body language will have a big impact on your child as she develops from an adorably unselfconscious toddler to a more self-conscious preschooler.
As a parent a negative body image can be quite a lot of baggage to unload. The good news is that once you learn to use respectful and positive words about your own body, it can actually begin to change your perspective. You can then start to encourage your child’s natural acceptance and contentment with her own body.
The lovely thing is that although you may not love some of these attributes in yourself you can learn to love and recognise them in your child. It is a good opportunity to be kind to yourself and to your child. The more you can accept your body, the more you will imbue your child with a positive view of her own body.
The language you use around food, weight, bodies and beauty are already informing their vocabulary at this age. Be kind and warm to yourself, your child and those people around you and she will be more likely to feel the same.
Try to use positive words such as:
The same power is there for negative words so try to avoid words like ‘disgusting,’ ‘pathetic’ or ‘gross’ when discussing your body.
You might have lost the energy for sports and activity when you had your child. When you go to the park, soft play area or swimming pool, chances are you will try and have a break on the sideline. It’s completely understandable – chances are you’re exhausted.
If you can start to join in with your child’s play, even for 5 minutes the first time, and build it up, then your fitness will build. Over time, an upward spiral will occur and you’ll feel a lot better and have more energy.
Your child will copy many of your habits – so there’s more chance of her becoming sporty if you are too!
Take our parent body confidence quiz as it might identify ways in which you can be kinder to yourself and help your child to learn positive attitudes to his or her body and other people’s bodies. The points are the same whether you have a boy or a girl.
1. When you look at your reflection in the mirror do you:
a) Groan, pull at bits of your face or body you don’t like and announce how ‘fat’ ‘ugly’ or ‘terrible’ you look?
b) Spend a lot of time checking yourself in the mirror but only complain on ‘bad days’.
c) Use the mirror briefly and don’t make negative comments about yourself, sometimes you might even say something positive!
2. How do you explain your exercise to your child?
a) You treat exercise like a miserable chore and say that you have to do some exercise as you’re so ‘flabby’, ‘hideous’ and ‘out of shape’.
b) You quite like exercise but will often explain that you need to lose some weight before, say, a wedding or holiday.
c) You enjoy regular exercise and explain that it’s good to be strong and fast.
3. Do you have physical play with your child?
a) No, when you get to the park it’s your chance to sit down with a coffee and a magazine while your child runs around.
b) You will sometimes play if you’re begged to, but generally you try and get out of it.
c) One of the best things about having a child is it gives you an excuse to jump into pools, play at the park and run around like ‘a child’ – your child keeps you fit!
4. How do you talk about food?
a) You talk about the food in very polarised terms, there is good, healthy food, and bad, naughty food.
b) You try to educate your child about good food and bad food and explain that some food makes you fat.
c) Food is both a fuel and a joy. You are very enthusiastic about a huge range of food and explain that our body needs food as fuel and we need to listen to when it tells us that it’s hungry or full. You also like to encourage your child to try all the foods you love.
5. Do you discuss other people’s bodies with your child?
a) You sometimes say ‘she’s looking awful now she’s put on that weight’ and you often comment on people’s hair, clothes, skin… you name it!
b) You always compliment people if they have made an effort and try not to say anything too negative.
c) You like to boost people’s confidence but don’t just focus on their body. You’re just as likely to tell them they have a lovely voice or that they’ve been really kind than say anything about their appearance.
6. How do you discuss your child’s body?
a) You’re really worried about her gaining too much weight so you already limit her portions and tell her that she ‘doesn’t want to get fat’ or ‘get a big tummy’
b) You tell my child she’s beautiful all the time and say she’s going to be a supermodel when she grows up.
c) My child’s body is amazing, strong, fast. Her skin is soft like a peach and her eyes are lovely. Your toddler enjoys her growing strength and abilities and you spend as much time talking about how her other attributes and interests.
7. How do you discuss your shared characteristics?
a) Your child knows you hate your curly hair and she sees your straighten it whenever you go out. She has curly hair too.
b) You both have the same bottom but you’ve told her if she exercises it might not get as big as yours.
c) One of the ways you’ve fallen in love with your body is seeing the shared characteristics in your daughter or son. You show her your shared features in the mirror, for example ‘Look! Our eyes are the same colour of green and you have freckles on your nose too!’
Mostly a’s – You seem to have low body confidence and perhaps without realising you are transferring lots of negative ideas about your body, her body and the role of food and exercise in your lives. Try to be kind to yourself. Ban yourself from criticising your reflection and try to enjoy a healthy balanced diet and activity with your child.
Mostly b’s – Like most people you have your ups and your downs when it comes to your body. You might have had your body confidence knocked as a child and are trying to make sure it doesn’t happen to your child. Try to be kind to yourself and your child and not focus so much on how your bodies look. Instead, focus on what your bodies can do. Learn to reconnect with an enjoyment of physical activity and nourishing food.
Mostly c’s – You may have had parents who instilled a strong sense of body confidence in you by lots of activity and fun rather than focussing on appearance. You are pretty happy with your body and love to see your characteristics appearing in your child as she learns to walk, run and jump.
Young children display a wonderful body confidence; they love what their body can do and they all seem to stroke their little egg-shaped bellies with pride and delight.
Sadly, after this peak of body confidence, some children learn that bodies are supposedly disgusting, fat, un-loveable, disappointing. This is such a tragedy and leads to low body confidence that can be transferred from one generation to the next. The good news is that with a few changes in the words you use about yourself and how you interact with your child you can prevent your body hang-ups being passed on. Play at the park and run around like ‘a child’ – it will keep you fit and give you a new chance to reconnect with your body and your child-like joy in what it can do.