Body image is how we feel about our bodies. Whatever their size or weight, children can develop either a positive or negative view of their bodies. Body image concerns can begin as early as preschool. Parents and other adult role models need to promote a positive body image for children of all ages.

Young people with a positive image feel more comfortable and confident in their ability to succeed. They don’t obsess about calories, food or weight. They have energy to enjoy physical activity.

In contrast, kids with a negative body image feel more self-conscious, anxious and isolated. They are at greater risk for excessive weight gain and eating disorders.

Give the gift of positive body image with five steps.

Check Body Image Issues

How parents feel about their bodies has a powerful influence on kids. Be aware of messages you might be sending children about your body image. If you talk about your huge thighs, your latest weight loss diet or your punishing workouts, kids will pick up on these negative messages. They will begin to worry about the size of their thighs and think they should be dieting.

Focus on Health, Not Weight

Shift your focus from weight to health. Stop obsessing about numbers on the scale. Instead, concentrate on delicious foods and fun physical activities. Most kids don’t need to work out — they need to play with family and friends. Children shouldn’t be counting calories or restricting their intake. They should be enjoying regular meals and learning how to make smart, tasty snack choices.

Nutrition and fitness are great goals because they give us energy to do all the things that we want to do. Whatever our age or size, we feel better when we take care of our bodies. Teach your kids about how to get the energy they need to take care of themselves and live an active life.

Find Physical Activities That Fit

Feeling fit, strong and capable is one aspect of positive body image. All children need regular physical activity they enjoy. Some kids are natural athletes — they love all sports. Other kids do better at individual activities, such as walking or riding a bike. Some enjoy yoga, karate or dance. It doesn’t matter what kids do for physical fitness. It just matters that they do something.

Watch Out for Bullies

Weight-related teasing is a major basis for bullying. Encourage your child’s school to address the issue. Ask them to support nutrition and physical education that promotes health for kids of every size. If your child is bullied about weight or for any other reason, act now. Discuss your concerns with the school counselor or administrator.

Myth-Busting a Perfect Body

Help your child be critical of bodies on television, in magazines and on the internet. Chat about the pictures of models in print and online ads. Explain that many of these images are retouched or changed so the bodies appear perfect