Pediatric HealthSource: How Parents Can Promote Body Positivity to Children

The ways parents talk about other people, and about exercise and weight loss, can influence how kids perceive themselves and their appearance.

Ashley Kroon Van Diest, Ph.D.
Focusing on exercise for health rather than weight loss is one aspect of promoting body positivity.

Q: Why is body positivity important for kids, and how can I nurture it in our family as a parent?

A: The body positive movement is not new, but it has gained popularity over the past few years. Instead of emphasizing and putting our feelings of worth into beauty and body image, being body positive means that we love ourselves and others regardless of physical appearance, focusing instead on strengths and nonphysical characteristics. Rather than aspiring to physical perfection as it is portrayed in Hollywood and social media, we encourage acceptance and health.

Children and adolescents are most vulnerable to the unrealistic expectations that traditionally have been promoted in our society. That’s why it’s important to teach your young children—boys and girls—to appreciate others and themselves for what’s on the inside, not the outside. When you compliment your children, praise them for being considerate or funny, for being a hard worker or a good friend. When they are old enough to pay attention to media, discuss unrealistic standards and teach them how to tune out negative messages.

Being a good role model is one of a parent’s most important jobs. Being careful to avoid negative body talk or “fat talk” is very important. Showing confidence and being comfortable with yourself, along with placing an emphasis on your health, can foster a positive family environment and help your children feel more secure with themselves.

Always consult your child’s pediatrician concerning your child’s health. For more pediatric health news parents can use, visit our blog: 700childrens.nationwidechildrens.org.

Ashley Kroon Van Diest, Ph.D., is a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Ashley Kroon Van Diest, Ph.D.

Consistent Messaging

Reinforce body positivity in your family with activities such as these:

  • “All About Me” book – Create a scrapbook with your child that includes pictures, drawings or other keepsakes that celebrate their favorite things. This puts the focus on the unique person they are, rather than what they look like.
  • Physical activity – Teach your children about the importance of exercise for health benefits rather than weight loss. Find fun ways to exercise together, like dancing, running, playing tag or playing ball.
  • Table Talk – Take turns around the dinner table, complimenting each family member for something that isn’t related to looks.