Your daughter might still be a few years away from puberty, but at this age she’s starting to become more conscious of what her body looks like, how she feels about her appearance, and how her body compares to others’. In fact, research shows that 8 years old is the age many girls start to experience a major drop in confidence. So this is the perfect time to start talking about what it means to have a healthy body image.
One way to do that is to teach her about body neutrality. Body neutrality is different from body positivity in that it doesn’t mandate feeling great about our bodies 24/7. Who doesn’t feel a little self-conscious when they’re bloated or when they wake up to a new zit? It’s normal not to feel amazing about our bodies all the time. Instead, body neutrality is all about noticing and focusing on the incredible things our bodies do for us every day. Read on to discover five ways you can teach your child about this healthy mindset.
5 ways to promote body neutrality in your pre-tween
1. Focus on her abilities
As your child grows up, she might start to notice all of the images and messages on the internet and in the media about people’s bodies and physical appearances. It’s hard to ignore the constant opinions about the right clothes to wear, which hairstyles are the cutest, and how curvy or thin or tall or petite a body should be. It’s a lot—even for us as adults!
The goal is to help your child drown out the noise by putting less emphasis on what her body looks like and instead focusing on what her body can do. This will remind her that there is much more to her than what she looks like.
If your daughter is an athlete, point out how much stronger her body is becoming as she grows. If she’s getting taller, comment on how cool it is that she can reach the top shelf now. When you’re enjoying a yummy snack together, talk about how amazing it is that our taste buds can detect all different flavors. And always guide her toward focusing on traits that have nothing to do with what she looks like, such as how kind, smart and funny she is.
2. Sympathize and build resilience
It’s pretty much inevitable that your child will feel self-conscious about an aspect of her appearance at some point. It can be hard to resist the urge to simply remind her that she’s beautiful and has nothing to worry about. But that’s not super helpful. Instead, validate your child’s feelings by saying something like, “I know how hard it is to feel that way.” Then, share a story from your own life about a time when you felt self-conscious too.
Point out your own imperfections, but make light of them. This will help your daughter realize that even though she’s not going to feel great about her body all the time, she will get through it, and uncomfortable feelings don’t have to get in the way of her joyfully living her life.
3. Be a role model for your child
Since body neutrality is a relatively new concept, it can be tricky to rewire our brains to focus less on physical appearance. But practice makes progress! Children are incredibly observant and excellent mimics, so it’s important to try and adopt this mindset into your own life, as opposed to just teaching your child about it.
For example, if you’re getting dressed or trying on new clothes in front of your child and they’re too small, try not to complain about gaining weight. Instead, shrug it off and say “guess I need a bigger size.” Little moments like this will show your child that bodies change and grow throughout our lives and that’s perfectly fine.
4. Reframe physical activity
Instead of only talking about exercise as a way to lose weight or maintain a certain weight, talk to your child about how things like hiking, jogging, walking, yoga, and dancing do wonders for our mental health and overall mood. Encourage your daughter to move her body in ways that she enjoys, and take part in regular physical activity together.
An impromptu Taylor Swift dance party is sure to put a smile on her face—the sillier the moves, the better! Teaching your child that it can be fun to take care of her body is a lesson that will stay with her forever.
5. Encourage a healthy relationship with food
Pay attention to the words you use when talking about food. Try to refrain from calling certain foods “bad” or saying things like “I’m cheating” when you’re having a sweet treat. This could result in your daughter developing anxiety around certain foods, which can lead to unhealthy restrictive dieting.
Instead, make nutritious foods appealing by talking about all the good they do for our bodies. For instance, over breakfast, talk about how the calcium in yogurt strengthens our bones. At snacktime, mention that a handful of walnuts is great for our brains. Encourage your daughter to try all different foods—including sugary treats in moderation.
Cooking together is also a great way to inspire curiosity and creativity in the kitchen. Look up recipes you’ll both enjoy and give your child age-appropriate tasks to help with, like measuring ingredients, stirring, and of course, taste-testing!
For more confidence-boosting tips, check out Growing Up Powerful from Rebel Girls, available at rebelgirls.com and wherever books are sold.