Many children, if not most, will feel insecure about their physique at some point in their lives. This is especially common among athletes who need to make a certain weight class, or children who are teased about their weight. If your child measures their own self-worth by the number on the scale, they could be at risk for developing an eating disorder.
Eating disorders can be tricky to cure, so it’s best to arm yourself with knowledge and recognize any sign of a problem before it becomes a full-blown disorder. Parents usually play an integral role in the prevention of an eating disorder. This is not to say that parents are to blame when an eating disorder does rear its ugly head-anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorders can develop for a number of reasons such as genetics, overexposure to the media, social relationships, and more. Instead of feeling guilty about your child’s eating problem, take steps to improve self-esteem and teach her how to eat in order to be healthy.
Be A Good Role Model
Being a good role model for your children means engaging in a healthy lifestyle. If you are going to eat potato chips in front of the television every night, your child is likely going to do the same. Instead, encourage physical activity by being active yourself. Take your child to the park, for a walk, or to the pool.
Don’t diet. Instead of teaching your child that weight fluctuations can be fixed with starvation or bizarre eating habits, eat healthy meals with, and in front of, your child. Seeing parents and friends diet leads to a much higher likelihood of developing an eating disorder.
Get your children involved in extra-curricular activities. Children gain confidence from participating in team sports, art classes, or dance lessons. Not only do these activities improve a child’s social skills, they also build confidence, strengthen friendships, and help your child find his or her niche. Encourage these after-school activities and praise your child for whatever they accomplish while participating in them.
Emphasize What Really Matters
Never tease your child about her weight or appearance. This includes references to height, complexion, hair, etc. It’s equally important not to tease others about the same in front of your child-even if you are just laughing about your boss or a character in a movie. You child could easily pick up cues from you that making fun of overweight people is the norm. Instead, instill the belief that people have value because of their personality, intelligence, and talents.
Praise your child for her qualities that don’t have anything to do with her appearance. Her self esteem should be related to the good grade she got on a test or how she mastered a piano piece. Attractiveness should be a non-issue in your household. To watch the swimsuit competition of the local beauty pageant with earnest would only reinforce the idea in your daughter’s mind that being beautiful means being lovable. Little girls grow up and become women who believe that their only worthy trait is their looks. Don’t let it happen to your daughter.
Acknowledge that there is room for most foods (in moderation) in a healthy diet. If you restrict sugary or deep-fried foods, you may create a “forbidden fruit” effect, whereby your child will eat the stigmatized food in secret. Involve your children in meal preparation and emphasize a balanced diet.
Mealtimes should be a good experience for the entire family. It is a time to catch up and bond. Don’t discuss the calorie or fat content of the food, simply enjoy the togetherness.
Don’t Be Afraid To Get Help
If you do notice some signs that your daughter is worried about her weight, it might be time to get her in to talk to a counselor. Being a kid is difficult enough and worrying about body size is simply not healthy for young children. A counselor will help your child recognize what her strengths are, and why body image should not be linked to her confidence.
There are some fairly simple ways that you can instill confidence in your child, and hopefully prevent an eating disorder. There are several characteristics to an eating disorder (such as genetic predisposition) of which you may not have any control over. However, by focusing on healthy eating and an active lifestyle, as well as acknowledging your daughter’s positive traits that don’t relate to her looks, you have a better chance of preventing an eating disorder before it’s too late.