How to talk to your kids about body-image and positive self-talk

Did you grow up with a parent who was obsessed with the latest weight-loss trends and fad diets? If you’re nodding your head, you’re not alone. Many of us grew up watching our moms do early morning workouts to Richard Simmons tapes, eat 100-calorie snack packets, and invest in memberships to the nearest Curves gym or Weight Watchers meetups. We grew up with the idea that we were only worth the numbers on the scale ingrained in us from a very young age. Body image was definitely obsessed about—and not in the healthiest way.

Our parents didn’t mean for this to damage us or our self-confidence—but honestly, it did.

We live in a world that is obsessed with appearance. Everyone you see on TV, movies or magazine covers has to have the perfect body, skin, hair and nail—and if anything is out of place, airbrushing comes to the rescue. Spending any time on social media means brands bombard you with fad diets, and you’ll scroll through article after article on how to lose that winter weight and build the perfect beach body. 

This marketing might sell diet plans, but it also fosters a culture of negative body image. We’ve lived with it our whole lives, but that doesn’t mean our kids should have to do the same. 

It’s up to us to change the next generation’s relationship with their bodies—and that positive shift should start young. Here’s how to encourage positive self-talk in kids.

Start Small

You are changing something ingrained in your mind since childhood, and that isn’t easy. It’s also not something you should expect to conquer overnight. When talking to your kids about self-talk and positive body image, don’t tackle all the subjects at once. Instead, work on taking baby steps. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm yourself and your kids, and by constantly badgering them about the subject, you risk making it more negative and challenging to fix in the long run.

Fat Isn’t a Bad Word

How many times have you heard this conversation? 

“I’m fat.” 

“You’re not fat. You’re beautiful!”

Popular culture has conditioned us to associate fat with its more negative connotations. The word often gets listed alongside other negative traits and is even associated with villain characters in storybooks. The challenge here is to reclaim the word fat so it isn’t bad anymore. 

We need to stop using the term to ridicule and turn it into a neutral adjective to describe someone. There’s no shame in saying someone has blonde hair or brown eyes. We need to reach a point where there is no shame in calling ourselves fat because it’s no longer considered negative.

People have complicated relationships with their bodies and size, often resulting from their upbringing and societal pressures. Start by repairing your relationship with the word. Make sure you’re not using it as a tool to ridicule anyone—including yourself. Slowly, we can work to alter the connotations surrounding the term.

Turning Negative to Positive

The examples of self-talk that we usually see in popular culture are almost always negative. Characters are shown talking to themselves aloud or in an internal monologue, detailing how something about them is insufficient. We see this predominantly in female characters, though there are instances of this behavior demonstrated in male characters as well. 

Overcoming this trend of negative self-talk isn’t easy. Instead of focusing on the bad, work with your kids. Together, take the time to stop, recognize negative self-talk when it occurs and reframe those negatives as positives. Do this without judgment, and don’t look down on yourself for having those thoughts. Instead, recognize them, allow them to pass through you and then revise them. 

Help your kids develop a healthy relationship with their bodies by encouraging exercising outdoors. They can learn that fitness is fun and is not necessarily a weight-loss tool. Being active has been proven to boost mood and self-esteem while improving physical condition, and that’s a win for everyone.

No Body-Shaming Allowed

One of the biggest challenges to overcome when talking to your kids about self-talk and body image is that we spend our lives surrounded by media and people in our lives that body shame almost by default. Existing while fat, or even while you simply don’t fit what society considers as the acceptable standard, is already hard enough without adding body shaming on top. 

Make it a rule in your household—one that everyone adheres to—to ban body-shaming. This includes yourself and anyone else, whether you know them in real life or not. 

How to Talk to Your Kids About Body Image

Telling your kids to do something is entirely ineffective if you turn around and do the exact opposite. Children, especially younger ones, tend to mimic your behavior—because you’re their biggest role model and hero. If you hope to raise your kids to have a good relationship with their body image, you need to lead by example. 

None of this is easy, but if we can keep our kids from growing up with the same struggles we experienced, then we’ve accomplished something to be proud of.

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