Part 3: Top 8 Things You Can Do and Say to Help Your Child Combat Negative Body Image Influences
You Have the Power
The roots of body image issues grow far deeper than just "looks". Sure, we all have to look in the mirror and we all have to live with the person staring back at us but that mirror image of our outside is only part of the equation. How we feel about ourselves on the inside determines how susceptible we will be to negative influences on the outside.
We all have the power to grow children who are strong and confident on the inside; children who do not define their self worth based on looks. This internal strength, confidence, and belief in themselves is what will save our children when faced with the forces of negative body image influence. Let's teach our children that they are strong, they are smart, they are beautiful, and they can be anything they want to be.
Growing Strong and Confident Children
1. Tell them they are perfectly made on the inside and out.
Don't base your compliments on their clothes, shoes, makeup or hair - those are not what make them beautiful. When I was growing up my Grandfather on my Dad's side would offer compliments such as this, "Wow, YOU sure make that dress look nice!". I love this and I use it with my children.
2. Tell them you are proud of them. I have very fond memories of my Mom and Dad telling me ALL THE TIME that they were proud of me. When I was younger I didn't really understand what that meant but now that I have my own children I get it. We are proud of our children simply because they are who they are. We are proud of their little personalities that are just theirs and make up who they are. Of course we have moments when our children excel and we are full of praise for them but don't wait for those moments. Tell them NOW that you are proud of them simply because they are who they are.
3. Be their cheerleader. My Mom always told me "You can do anything you set your mind to.". Guess what? I believed her. There has never come a day when I have wanted to do something but didn't out of fear of failing or not knowing how to do it. If I want to do something I figure out how to do it and I do it damn it! It never even occurs to me that I won't be able to do something simply because I don't know how or because I can't. I know that I can do anything - Because my Moma said I can :->
4. Tell them they are smart. My Grandfather on my Mother's side always encouraged me to do well in school and further my education beyond high school. He is a large part of why I went to college and graduated. I have two sisters who are younger than me. I finished college while they were still in high school. When my Grandfather would introduce us he would put his arms around all three of us and say, "These are my pretty Granddaughters". Then he would put his arm around just me and say, "And this is my pretty and smart Granddaughter."! (Big smile on my face as I recall this). I think my sisters went to college just so our Grandfather would call all 3 of us "pretty and smart". HA!
5. Encourage their individuality. Find pieces of their personality that are unique to them and that you can praise. My Dad always told me I was a leader. He could have told me instead that I was a stubborn kid who refused to play by the rules but instead made them up as I went (because I definitely was)! Simply because my Dad told me I was a leader I have always believed that I am. I typically take the road less traveled. I don't look to others to define who I am or what I want to be. Thank you Pops!
6. Let them express themselves. When your child shows an interest in something that is of little or no importance to you don't blow it off! Encourage their ideas and thoughts. Encourage them to believe in themselves. Teach them that if they can dream it they can do it! Don't try to mold them into a miniature you - that's not who they are! Even something as simple as letting them pick out their own clothes can go a long way in building confidence in themselves. Let them wear a Cinderella dress to the supermarket. Who cares!
7. Play this really cheesy confidence building game. I tried this with my children and a few of their friends recently and it was a huge success! Put everyone in a circle and then say one nice thing about each person in the circle. When you are finished let the person next to you do the same until everyone has had a turn. When you are finished everyone in the room with have a huge smile on their face. Each person will have just heard multiple compliments on themselves. A side bonus I noticed was that the children all played very well together after this exercise. The energy in the room was absolutely positive. I even noticed the children playing up the compliments they had been given. For example, one child was told that she is very polite. I noticed as she was playing she took every opportunity to say please and thank you. Each child was in a good mood because their confidence had just been boosted.
8. And yes, tell them they are beautiful.Everyone needs to hear it! When my cousin, Erika, was only a couple of years old I told her she was pretty. She replied, "I know". I asked her, "How do you know?". Her response was "Because my Moma told me I am pretty." Wow! What a statement! It's amazing how much children absorb. They absolutely adore their parents and believe every word they say. Tell them they are pretty, tell them they are beautiful, tell them they are kind, tell them they are smart. They will believe you and they will believe in themselves because of it!
The World is Not All Butterflies and Rainbows
Choose your words to your children carefully. They admire you and they hang on every word you say. I am not saying that you should teach your children that the world is all butterflies and rainbows. Of course not. However, your children will each be dealt their fair share of rejection and hurtful comments from the world so don't add to it. The words you speak to your children are ingrained in their mind. They believe what you say. If you tear them down, well, they'll be torn down and broken. If you build them up then at least they will stand a chance when this nasty world gets its hands on them.
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