Body image refers to the way people see themselves and how they feel about their appearance. These views can be positive or negative based on opinions received from the media, family and friends. A person’s perception of their body can be formed from a young age, which is why it’s important to instil positive ideas of body image into toddlers and young children.

Why is positive body image important?

Not only does positive body image help children to feel good about themselves, it supports their mental health through their early years and sets a foundation for the rest of their life.
It is important that children value their body for its functionality rather than for how it looks. Toddlers who have a negative body image risk developing negative attitudes towards eating and dieting that could further develop into serious mental health issues.

How to promote positive body image

There are a number of ways you can assist in promoting a positive body image in your toddler.
  • Shift the focus; encourage your toddler to feel good about their body and concentrate on assets rather than flaws. By influencing them to focus on their health and wellbeing rather than focus on their weight or how their body looks, you can help your toddler to develop a positive body identity that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
  • Create positive eating habits – children learn from their parents, so making sure that there are plenty of fruits and vegetables in your toddler’s diet is vital, as well as reinforcing that unhealthy options such as fried or sugary foods are ‘occasional foods’. Avoid dieting or encouraging children to diet as this is a key risk factor in developing an eating disorder.
  • Avoid negative body talk – encourage your toddler to be accepting of different body types and shapes. Avoid sharing opinions about ‘ugly’ body parts or implying that being ‘fat’ is a bad thing – children learn most of their behaviour and attitudes from their parents and may in turn mimic these opinions.
  • Focus on having fun – encourage your toddler or child to exercise regularly and stay active. Make these times fun, potentially through a family activity such as swimming, dancing or playing a game in the backyard. This creates a healthy relationship with activity and exercise that can carry right through childhood.

Toddlers and children shouldn’t be worried about their bodies at such a young age. By implementing tactics that shift the focus away from appearance and to functionality and feeling, you can assist in promoting a positive body image for your child and setting them up for a life of body positivity.