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Body Image: Tips for Helping Your Child Have a Healthy One

Recently I nearly had a heart attack when I over heard my SIX year old and her bestie ask one another, “Do I look fat in this?” Another friend mentioned her Kindergarten son came home from school and asked her if she thought he was fat. What has Elmo been talking about their on the ‘ol Street? Seriously, I full well expected to address this issue at some point because I am raising children in bikini clad California, but ALREADY? Breezy Mama turned to Dr. de Freitas, a pediatrician and founder of Healthy Chats, for her advice for promoting a healthy body image no matter how young or old the child, signs a child/teen may have an eating disorder and more.

After hearing two six year olds ask one another if they look fat, what would you have recommended I had said?

Children need to be taught that a person’s value is not based on whether they are fat, or on how they look but on how they behave towards others and themselves.

In addition remind children that everyone is different and that our bodies are gifts to them from their parents. Encourage children to find their unique characteristic. This could be that they are funny, athletic, smart, caring and innumerable other traits that make part of our human nature. Nurture that along with a good diet and a healthy portion of exercise.

As a mom of two daughters in bikini clad California, what suggestions do you have for promoting a healthy body image?

It is so unfortunate that our society sexualizes the female body and places such emphasis on physical appearance. Unfortunately, it seems particularly prominent in CA.

As parents, we need to let our girls know that we value them for who they are and not by their looks.

Young girls can be empowered with a healthy body image through sports, good eating habits, and remaining involved in activities that promote their education and advancement as individuals. Remind your daughter that her body is perfect just the way it is and enjoy the process of dressing for the styles that best suit your figure.

Stress that everyone’s body type is different and learning to dress for what is best for your figure – even here in CA where girls tend to dress for the warmer climate — is also helpful.

A friend’s son asked her if she thought he was fat – is body image affecting boys these days, too?

I do not see body image affecting young boys as much as it does young girls. Boys still seems to be more preoccupied by their height than their weight in our culture. However, if this is an issue, boys should be encouraged to eat healthy foods and have a suitable amount of exercise – versus sitting in front of a video game or computer.

For moms with older children, what signs should they look for that could indicate an eating disorder?

Signs of an eating disorder may be very subtle and often go unnoticed for months. If your child is experiencing a rapid weight loss, always makes an excuse for not eating, starts to use baggy clothing (as a way to hide the weight loss), plays with his/her food shifting it around in the plate but not eating it – all of these can be red flags. You may also notice an almost obsessive compulsion to exercise. In the more extreme cases, a girl may miss her period, feel light headed and complain of temperature changes – being too cold. These are just a few of the many signs of an eating disorder.

What steps should they take if they suspect their child may have one?

You should visit your health care provider and be open with your concerns. Periodic weight checks and close follow up with a mental health professional may be needed as well as with a nutritionist.

I’ve read to be cautious when it comes to feeding kids — never make it about control and when they say they are finished, they are finished. Do you agree? And do you have any other advice for preventing meal time from being the start of a disorder?

Entire books have been written on this topic, yet let me try to summarize it as best I can. When it comes to food, even from a very early age, let your child be in control of the food. This is best done by understanding the role each of you (parent and child) have at mealtime as it relates to food. A parent must realize that they cannot make their kids eat. Their job is to provide the child with nutritious foods and place and schedule for meals to happen at suitable hours reflecting your child’s schedule. You can encourage a child to try new foods but as we all know, this is not always easy. Additionally, if as a parent we don’t want our children to eat junk food, then we should not have it available for them. Instead we need to provide our children with a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grain products and dairy.

The child’s role is to pick the quantity and the quality from what is offered. This method of dealing with food and family life starts from as early as age one! If you allow your child to be in control of their eating patterns at an early age and provide them with healthy foods they will grow up knowing how to regulate their food intake. In addition, meal times should be family time, with the TV off.

Lately there is a new emphasis on behalf of the White House Initiative to prevent childhood obesity. In addition to healthy food, it encourages making physical activity part of your family’s weekly routine. For more information visit:

Any other advice for promoting a healthy body image?

Remind your child that every one is different and we celebrate these differences. Their body type will be just the right one for them and it is passed on from multiple past generations within their family tree.

A healthy body image comes from within.

2-CdF_cropAbout Dr. de Freitas
Healthy Chats founder, Dr. Chrystal de Freitas is a pediatrician, author and mother of three children who has a special interest in health education. She completed her pediatric training at the University of Washington, in Seattle, WA, and has been in private practice for 22 years.
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  1. Elizabeth Shany says:

    Thanks! Its what I have been doing, but it isnice to be reasuured that you are doing the right thing!

  2. Yes to Dr. de Freitas! I love it when she says we should focus on other qualities that are kids are good at and keep reinforcing how good they are at it!

    My mother always was lamenting about her weight(and she is a size 4!) and it sure rubbed off on me. I am trying EVERYTHING in my power NOT to do the same thing to my daughter.

  3. Great post! A lot of mothers don’t realize that their smallest actions can have an enormous impact on their daughters and their self esteem. It happens even before puberty too, just think about all of the things a toddler sees you do and tries to emulate – funny faces you make, the way you eat your food or even those curse words you let slip.

    Telling your daughter she is beautiful, both inside and out, is just one piece of helping her to develop a positive body image. Moms can also help promote positive body images to their children by learning to love themselves!

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