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Published on January 08, 2019

mom and daughter playing chess

A healthy body image starts with you

How do you see yourself when you look in the mirror? Are you content or critical?

Gundersen Health System pediatric psychologist Sarah Long, PhD, says, "From a very young age, children pick up on how parents talk about their own bodies and the bodies of other people. No one is more influential to children than their parents."

Sarah Long, PhD

Sarah Long, PhD

When you teach your kids happiness comes from being healthy, not having a perfect body, they will carry those attitudes with them throughout their life.

Dr. Long shares this advice:

Watch what you say and what others say. You control what comes out of your mouth, but you cannot control what others say. When you hear something you don't like, turn it into a conversation at home. For example, "Our neighbor said something today I think we should discuss…"

Be critical viewers of social media. Every day, we are inundated with pictures and videos of the culturally ideal body type. Parents, along with their kids, should be skeptical viewers of advertisers and social media, recognizing that it is not realistic to look like celebrities.

Build confidence. Telling your children that they are great does not make them believe it or feel it. Dr. Long says the best way to build confidence is to pick up a new hobby—preferably something that your child enjoys but might need to practice. Over time, they can look back and see how far they've come. In the process, this takes the focus off aspects of the body that your child may dislike.

Empathize with them. When talking to teenagers, acknowledge that you understand how they are feeling. Provide positive feedback and focus on what their bodies can do, not how they look.

"Some amount of body dissatisfaction, particularly in puberty, is not unusual. However, it is important to seek help when problems with body image result in changes in your child's behavior (e.g. excessive exercise, restrictive eating) or changes in their daily activities (e.g. not wanting to go to school or avoiding an extracurricular activity)," states Dr. Long.

For more advice, talk to your child's primary care provider.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System staff deliver great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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