10 Tips to Help Your Kids As They Struggle with Eating Disorders and Body Image
Updated: Oct 24, 2022
Many individuals struggle with their body image from a young age. Research in the United States reveals that around 50 percent of 13-year-old girls reported being unhappy with their body. This number grew to nearly 80 percent by the time respondents reached 17 years of age. Additionally, around 25 percent of male children/adolescents were concerned with their muscularity and leanness. It’s no surprise that this challenge is even more pronounced for young people also dealing with eating disorders or disordered eating behaviors.
Today’s blog post is written for the parents of adolescents facing body image issues, eating disorders, or both. Below, I share 10 tips to help you show your kids much-needed support, guidance, and, most importantly, love.
Model Healthy Eating Patterns and Positive Body Image
1. Don’t follow the adage “Do as I say, not as I do.” For instance, you can’t expect your child to have a healthy relationship with food and their body if you’re always dieting and making negative comments about your appearance.
2. Instead, be a good example for your kids and model positive body image. If this mindset doesn’t come naturally to you, do your own work. Consider talking to a therapist as you explore your personal issues related to food and body image.
3. Validate their feelings and make sure they know it’s okay to feel this way. Place the blame on the eating disorder. For example, you can confidently tell them, “The eating disorder is making you feel that way. As you show yourself care through nourishment and self-love, you will become stronger, and your eating disorder will become weaker.”
4. Offer distraction from negative thoughts. Do a puzzle together. Watch a favorite show or movie. Find a cozy spot to read a book. Encourage painting, coloring, or journaling for a more creative outlet.
5. Gently redirect body checking, which is the habit of seeking information about your body’s weight, shape, size, or appearance. This behavior can become problematic if it interferes with your child’s ability to concentrate, takes up too much time, creates problems at work or school, leads to isolation or anxiety, or makes them strictly limit their eating. Together, you can come up with alternative coping mechanisms. You can also work with a mental health professional if you need help developing healthier strategies.
Be a Body Positive Warrior For Your Child
6. Allow yourself to get frustrated and angry at the environments that foster negative body image, including social media, television shows, books or magazines, and even some toys. Be a body positive warrior for your child! Introduce them to healthy role models.
7. Do not respond to a negative body image comment by negating it. For instance, if they ask if they are fat, don’t reply, “No, you are beautiful.” This response reinforces the ideas that it is bad to be fat and that a fat person isn't beautiful. It also shows that you can’t tolerate their distress.
8. Speaking of which, it’s important to tolerate their distress. They are bravely facing their challenges, and it’s helpful if you can go through it with them. Be willing to ask them questions and explore their feelings and experiences. Be with them in their time of need, and don't look for a quick fix.
9. Help them identify and set boundaries with toxic relationships that trigger or reinforce negative body image. Be a strong support as they learn to respect these boundaries, especially with adults.
10. Finally, be their ally and their protector. Don’t allow others to make comments about your child’s body, both directly to them and behind their back. Redirect messages from family members, medical providers, and others that are focused on weight or appearance.
Reach out to Dr. Kelli Malkasian, PsyD, CEDS at Coral Reef Counseling, and schedule a free consultation or telehealth appointment today.