It’s not easy raising a girl. This is especially true as they get older, and things like body image and self-esteem come into play. Unfortunately, this seems to be happening at incredibly young ages these days. I remember the first time my daughter talked to me about her thighs, asking if they were too big. I think she was about seven at the time.
It really shook me up. I couldn’t believe that she was thinking things like that. I’d always worked hard to talk to her about being a strong girl and not say things like, “You’re so pretty,” all the time. But there’s only so much you can control. If you look at what’s on TV and what you see in pop culture, it’s no wonder girls are worried about their weight and developing a negative body image at a young age.
As parents, what can we do? Take a look at these seven tips I use with my own daughter, now 12, to encourage a positive body image. I put them together with the help of other parent friends, and they’re really good for all kids. I hope these help you through some of those tough parenting moments — and help your daughters (or sons) see themselves for the better.
1. Make being active regular part of your day.
You don’t have to have a strenuous workout plan to be active. By just incorporating walking, hiking, and general activity as part of your day, it sets a good example for kids. You can even make it fun.
Things like biking, playing basketball, and swimming are all good family activities. Try to encourage activity every day, even if it’s small. At first, it might feel like a chore, but then it’ll eventually be part of your regular routine — and theirs, even as they get into their teen and adult years.
2. Focus on your child’s strengths beyond her looks.
It’s easy to say things like, “You look so pretty,” or “You’re so beautiful,” but it’s important to give compliments beyond these surface items. What are your daughter’s talents? What is she really good at? Is she smart, insightful, caring, generous, or unique?
Go out of your way to notice these things and then tell them how much you appreciate them. Young people can never hear them enough.
3. Never stop talking about those strengths.
Maybe you remember to offer compliments every once in a while, or on special occasions, but then you forget to do it on a regular basis. Or maybe you try really hard a while, but then you fall out of habit.
This might be the single best thing you can do for your child. Never stop pointing out their strengths or noticing what makes them unique. Yes, you probably say things like “I’m proud of you,” or “Good job,” on a regular basis, but these can get to be standard or ordinary. Be sure to go out of your way to find new, specific things to notice and talk about, and do it sincerely.
4. Make and eat healthy food together.
Part of creating a healthy body image is knowing that you’re fueling yourself with healthy choices. This seems a bit obvious, but these are subtle lessons that can make a big difference if kids learn them at a young age.
For instance, talk about the importance of water and hydration. Of course, it shouldn’t seem random or come off as a lecture. If you make this part of your regular conversation, kids will naturally pick up on these habits. My daughter and I will have conversations like, “Okay, we’re having pizza for dinner. What kind of healthy thing can we put with it?” It’s a way for us to talk openly about balance and good eating habits without criticizing.
5. Don’t avoid activities that make someone body-conscious.
Without really meaning to, we’ll often avoid topics or activities that make others uncomfortable. Just recently, a friend of mine talked about finally conquering her fear of being out in public in a bathing suit — something she had never been comfortable with, even as a kid. But she didn’t want to miss out on valuable time with her son, so she faced her fears and did it.
It can be easy to fall into traps like this — avoiding certain physical activity because you don’t feel capable, or missing out on swimming because you don’t want to wear a bathing suit. These are not activities to push or force with your kids, but you don’t want to avoid them either. This goes back to being active as a family. Go out together and strive to make activities like this part of the norm.
6. Limit exposure to pop culture — but don’t be afraid to talk about what you see.
My daughter uses Snapchat, and there are definitely things on there that I question for a 12-year-old. There’s just so much pop culture and news out there that paints girls and women in a certain light.
However, I know that banning cell phones or Snapchat isn’t necessarily the answer, so instead, I talk openly about how women are perceived on social media and why those images and visuals can be unrealistic. I’d rather my daughter hear these things from me than from no one at all.
7. Find strong women role models.
This last one is so important, and it’s a great follow-up to the pop culture one. While we can’t control everything our children see, we can be active in pointing out strong female role models they can look up to. For me, this usually relates to women athletes, talking about how strong and beautiful they are. (My daughter is sporty, tall, and into basketball, so this is a good tie.)
You can find strong women role models anywhere, so I’d encourage you to find those in some of your daughter’s top interest areas. It will go a long way to give her someone to look up to.
Body image is a tough topic, but it’s so worth it. Let’s stop telling little girls how pretty they are, and instead tell them how strong, smart, and capable they are.
This post was written by Stacy Tornio, the author of The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book and the mom of two adventurous kids. Together, they like planning vacations centered around the national parks.