10 Ways Parents Can Promote a Healthy Self-Image in their Children

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One of my friends, Dr. Lyndsay Elliott, is a clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders and body image. When she recently emailed me to ask if I would ever like her to write something for my blog about how parents can help promote a healthy self-image in their children, I almost screamed through the computer, “YES!!”

As a mom raising two girls, it is something I think about a lot.

More than anything I want them to grow up with a healthy relationship with food and a good appreciation for their bodies. In today’s world, especially living in Orange County, I know it will be challenging.

That’s why I am so happy to give you Dr. Lyndsay’s suggestions on things we can do as parents to help…

10 Ways Parents Can Help Promote a Healthy Self-Image In Their Children

1. Instill Confidence: When you comment on internal qualities you instill self-assuredness in your child. Use phrases such as, “You are really good at….” Or “You seem to really know…” Reward effort and completion, instead of outcome.

2. Encourage Movement: Find a physical activity that your child enjoys, and focus on how being active makes your child feel. Promote the health benefits of exercise, without emphasizing weight or the value of leanness.

3. Be Aware of Influences: Monitor the sources that are influencing your child. Check out what your kids are reading though the media and Facebook, and listen closely (without intruding) to the conversations they have with their peers. Encourage your child to discuss what is going on around them, and to have a healthy critical mind of what they have seen or heard.

4. Be a Good Role Model: Eliminate the word “diet” from your vocabulary, do not discuss how much weight you want to lose, or how what you have eaten will impact your appearance. Be brave enough to remove the scale from your home.

5. Develop Positive Self-Beliefs: Help your kids to set realistic standards in evaluating themselves. Praise achievements. Identify areas where they can grow, and give them positive, accurate feedback on their performance.

6. Find Balance in your Kitchen: Offer a variety of nutritious and “junk” foods in your home for your children. Establish healthy eating habits. Help them to choose foods based on what their bodies need to give them energy. Do not limit portions or ban foods, and allow them treats as appropriate.

7. Be Kind to Others: Avoid speaking negatively about other people’s appearances and weight. First, it’s just not nice. Second, your child will wonder if you critique them, and may become fearful of being judged too.

8. Give Your Child Too Much Love: Consistently show your children how much you care about them. Give them physical affection, leave notes in their lunchboxes, offer praise frequently. But, be honest. Your kids will know if it is genuine!

9. Remember the Joys of Puberty: Weight and shape may fluctuate with growth and maturity. Normalize changes, and make sure your child understands that these fluctuations are a natural progression of growing up, and not necessarily indicative of the future. Everyone has an awkward stage!

10. Ask for Help: If you notice any concerning behaviors, seek the help of a professional as soon as possible. The quicker you can catch any blossoming disordered behaviors, the sooner you can help to resolve them!

Lyndsay Elliott, PsyD is a Clinical Psychologist and maintains a boutique practice in Newport Beach, California. Dr. Lyndsay specializes in food and body image issues, and has been an expert in the field since 1996.

Follow @DrLyndsay on Twitter

I would love to start a conversation in the comments below on anything you have to share on this topic. Please weigh in below (no pun intended!)


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  1. 1
    christina says:

    we adopted our daughter as an infant and her genetics are not the same as mine, in the area of BMI. She exercises and eats very healthy, yet I have taken her to the dr. and they think I am feeding her McDonalds or fast food everyday. this is not the case at all. We only eat out maybe once a week and it is not fast food. It really sickens me what dr.s just automatically assume about eating habits!!

    • 2
      Jen says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, that must be so frustrating.

      I love Dr. Lyndsay’s point about helping our kids develop confidence and positive self-beliefs as those tie into their self image and it is so important.

    • 3
      Lyndsay Elliott says:

      Ask your pediatrician to do blind weights (on the scale backwards) to record info. If you’re not comfortable with the messages that they are sending your daughter, definitely speak to them directly about your concerns. If that doesn’t work, then you may consider switching providers. You are welcome to contact me should you need a referral.

  2. 4
    Leslie says:

    I am really glad Dr. Elliott suggests keeping healthy and “junk” foods in the house. I agree that kids have to understand the choices they are making and recognize how food can impact their energy level.

    I do have one question about the word fat. My 6 and 4 year old kids have referred to obese people on TV as “fat.” While they are using the term correctly, I really don’t like how it sounds coming out of their mouths. I can tell they don’t see it as a negative thing, just as a matter of fact. (Although, my 6-year old has chuckled when saying the word.) I try to explain that people come in all shapes and sizes and that it is best to call someone by name, rather than call them by any descriptive words, like fat. And I try to remind them that if they don’t have anything nice to say, then to say nothing at all. But then I wonder if I am making too big of a deal about the word and I should just let it go. Any advice on how to handle this would be greatly appreciated!

    • 5
      Lyndsay Elliott says:

      Agreed, the “F” word is not allowed in our house either, and appropriate consequences should be set if/when it is used (ie timeout, activity taken away, etc.) Zero toleralance policy and they won’t use the word any longer, while also educating on the impact of talking poorly about others.

  3. 6
    Leslie says:

    Thanks, Dr. Elliott!

  4. 7
    Pam says:

    I love the first one about rewarding effort and completion instead of outcome. So important!

  5. 8
    Sara says:

    Thank you Dr.Lyndsay for this article. very realistic. I’m already giving these tips to parents at my clinic

  6. 9
    jessybrain says:

    Wow! great to seeing this post. These are realistic tips and every parents should learn from here. I am also a mother of two. I found interesting seeing the #6 point.

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