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How to Create Body Confidence in Your Preschool “Three-Nager”

“Not that doll! I want the pretty one!”

“That one looks cooler, I want to play with that guy!”

How do you know which toy your kid is asking for?

I’m betting you’ll reach for the tall, skinny, blonde haired fashion icon, right? Or the army guy with the menacing glare and the abs you can somehow see through his flak jacket?

Beauty Stereotypes Start Early

Can we just be honest for a second? There’s a “beauty stereotype” that everyone that we meet has nestled in the back of their minds.  One that our kids absorb at really early ages.

  • Running for the tall, skinny blonde fashion icon doll.
  • Selecting the muscular super action hero with the menacing glare.
  • The clear difference between the cute squeaky cartoon character they love and the villains or sidekicks.

None of us would set these toys out, point at them, and declare for our kids that they are “better/prettier/cooler”. Somehow, though, they’ve picked up on it.

How did you feel the first time you heard the word “ugly” come out of your sweet child’s mouth?

  • Was it anger? I didn’t want my little girl to pick these things up from the media so soon!
  • Was it fear? What happens when she looks at herself and starts applying these standards?
  • Or was it hopelessness? We can’t avoid these messages in our society. I’ve internalized them, why wouldn’t my son?

That terrible trifecta of emotion can lead to something dangerous: inaction. After all, this international beauty standard is much bigger than we are! How can we hope to fight against it?

Here’s the good news. Even though you can’t save everyone in the world’s self-image, you CAN impact your child’s. And the sooner you get to it, the better. Don’t push this off until teenagehood!

You have real influence here! In fact, your voice is one of the biggest contributors to your child’s body image.

As moms, we have a secret superpower! A very special type of ability that should lead us to high five and get new monogrammed capes!

It’s time to use these newfound capabilities to take down the Body Image Bad Guys one kid’s mind at a time.

Test Your Knowledge:
Take the Kids and Body Image Quiz

Ok, we’ve all silently compared ourselves to the magazine covers in the checkout line. We’ve ALL dealt with messages about our bodies.

The tricky part here is that it might lead us to think we are subject matter experts. Been there, done that, got the horribly unflattering t-shirt.

But processing how we deal with our OWN self-image doesn’t necessarily mean we know how our kids will deal with these issues.

True or False:

  1. Kids are fairly innocent/unaware of body image when they’re little and they don’t think much about how they look.
  2. It is important to engage kids in conversations about body image when they bring it up.
  3. Lighthearted teasing can encourage my son or daughter not to take themselves too seriously in this area.
  4. The most important thing is to affirm that my daughter is pretty and my son is handsome as often as I can. This will help them develop a positive self-image.

Ready to grade yourself?

Question #1: False

Kids are fairly innocent/unaware of body image when they’re little and they don’t think much about how they look.

This is actually a very common misperception among parents, even if we don’t say it out loud. The truth, though? Research says that kids are developing ideas about body image as early as preschool!

Question #2: True

It is important to engage kids in conversations about body image when they bring it up.

Many parents think that they don’t need to enter into this conversation until it becomes a problem. The truth is that those first questions or observations can open up a dialogue that will set a great precedent going forward.

Question #3:  False

Lighthearted teasing can encourage my son or daughter not to take themselves too seriously in this area.

It can be tempting to deflect difficult conversations with a joke. Maybe if we don’t take body image so seriously our children won’t either? Keep in mind that what may seem like good natured joking can be internalized as negative messages by your child.

Question #4: False(ish)

The most important thing is to affirm that my daughter is pretty and my son is handsome as often as I can. This will help them develop a positive self-image.

Now wait, this one seems true! Especially to any of us who didn’t received any affirmation on their appearance growing up. The problem comes when we rely too much on this kind of affirmation. Putting focus on abilities rather than appearance is correlated with better body image among adolescents.

How to be Contagiously Confident

Confident, you? Yes, you! The one who is still dreaming of fitting back into those pre-pregnancy jeans and whose yoga pants have never been to yoga. (Please tell me I’m not the only one…)

Just the title of this section might have brought about some crushing guilt.

How can my kid catch my confidence when I SO don’t feel it? Have I already done more damage than I can fix? I feel terrible! Forty bad mom lashes!

Walk it back, mama. Let’s do this together.

Step 1: Watch Your Language

So you’re having one of those days and you want to crawl back into bed because none of your dang clothes FIT anymore. What do you do next?

Pause before you utter that next phrase.

Imagine if you voiced these concerns to your husband and he responded, “You’re right, you have really let yourself go. You don’t deserve to feel good about your body.”

Horrifying. But that’s how you’re talking to yourself.

I’m not going to let you beat up on yourself anymore. The competent, intelligent, and capable woman that you are does not deserve to be treated that way.

Your precious child does not deserve to hear those things said about their mother!

Start with your own inner voice. Talk about health rather than size or weight. Think (or say), “What would help make me feel healthier today?”

Step 2: Be Proactive, Not Reactive

Ok, you’ve banished the negative self-talk from your house. Now what?

That perfect moment to engage your kids may not come along. Create opportunities to talk about body health.

  • Address the images that your children see in the media. When you see a muscle bound guy beating up on somebody smaller than him, ask your kids, “Do you think that’s ok?” or “How do you think he feels?”
  • Instead of the typical Barbie doll, try giving your daughter a Lammily doll for her birthday. Not only are her proportions more realistic, but the different accessories for Lammily are themed around interests like photography and travel. (Just don’t forget to pick up a few extra outfits, because at this age 99% of the fun is changing clothes!)
  • When your child asks about their skin color, or observes someone on the playground who looks different than they do, don’t just brush it off. Talk about the beauty in our differences. (Obviously, this is a much bigger topic. Read more here.)
  • Remember when you’re leaning over to a friend and whispering, “Wow, she has gained weight!” your little girl is listening and learning that being skinny is really important to her mom.

Involve your little ones in meal prep and talk about how different foods impact their growing bodies. How will eating carrots help your eyes? How would eating that whole cake make your tummy feel?

Studies show that kids who are involved in preparing their family meals reap positive attitudes about healthy foods. (Psst! These kid-safe knives are easy to use and approved for ages 4 and up!)

Another important point, don’t forget your son in this discussion! Strike up a conversation about a football game he might have noticed on TV. Point out the importance of kind and gentle men in the world.

Talk about the different types of “strength,” and how little they have to do with external appearance.

For example, compliment Daddy’s generosity and respect. Comment on the selflessness and honor that your son’s favorite superhero displays. Boys are often left out of this body confidence conversation, and that’s a shame, because they are impacted in many of the same ways.

Step 3: Get Moving!

You knew I was going to bring up exercise, didn’t you??

We’re not talking about side-by-side ellipticals in your basement, though. I’m talking about getting outside with your kids while they’re riding bikes in the driveway or playing tag at the park.

Not only does exercise help our attitudes (and increase the likelihood of naptime!), but it provides a great forum to talk about how great our bodies are.

Be intentional with comments like:

  • Look how fast your legs are moving!
  • You’re getting so good at balancing on your bike!
  • Can you feel your arms getting stronger when you throw that ball?

Rainy day? Take the activities inside by using  these fun action dice. Switch off rolling for each other, and doing the activities that show on top. Whoever can complete the most tasks wins!

Step 4: Brainstorm Ways to Affirm Your Child

Hear this: there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying your little girl is beautiful or your sweet boy is handsome.

How can you hold yourself back from gushing about that mischievous little smile or those sparkling eyes? The key is to add to these compliments, not eliminate them.

A little girl who only ever hears that she’s pretty might start to overemphasize beauty over kindness or hard work. At worst she might think that’s her only source of value.

Ask yourself: What are two or three other things I want to affirm about my child?

  • It could be her generosity in playing with a younger sibling.
  • Perhaps it’s his determined mind. (Some might call it stubborn, but maybe you’ve got a future CEO on your hands, right??)
  • How about her curiosity?
  • His compassionate care for animals?
  • Her quick-witted and clever tongue?
  • His detailed story telling?

You get the idea. You see that your little one has been created with beautiful depth, make sure they know it too! By focusing on a few traits they’ll start to remember that Mommy notices their generosity/creativity/intelligence, etc.

A Hero’s Work is Never Done

Body confidence is a big topic, sure, but NOW is the time to start framing this issue with your preschooler.

I’ll even make it easy for you. Read one of the books below and get that conversational ball rolling. They are great subtle ways to get your child to start talking!

Remember, you’ve got more influence than you think. Time to bolster your preschooler’s self image NOW, so it’s a rock-solid wall of confidence.

Throw on that cape and let’s do this!

Let’s help each other get started! What character trait of your child’s are you going to praise this week?

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