The importance of body positivity in young children
It is tempting to defer big or important conversations with children until they get a little older, for fear that they are too young. Whether we feel they will be unable to understand the concept, or we worry that the emotional impact might be detrimental to them.
One such conversation is around body image. No-one wants to make a child conscious of themselves physically at any age, let alone during their formative years. However, there is real opportunity to instil positive messaging in a child’s mind during this period. Planting healthy seeds around inclusion and body positivity before children become highly self-aware or affected by social comparison, can shape the lens through which they see the world, and even impact how their brain develops on a biological level. This, in turn, gives them a stronger foundation for self-love and compassion in the future.
By the time we reach adolescence or young adulthood, we already have a subconscious blueprint for how we view the world and what our core beliefs are. Of course, these will continue to evolve as we grow and move through life, but even small experiences, micro-traumas, and content that we are exposed to during our first years, can bed themselves deep into our subconscious and contribute to the biological pathways that develop in our brains.
According to Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, development of our cognitive function peaks from around ages 3–7 years, and is heavily impacted by our experiences during that time. Whether this is experience of family life, interaction with other children, or even what we see, hear, or read at that age.
As an adult, it is very difficult to unlearn a core belief that does not serve us — one of the main challenges the body positive movement faces. Many of us have been subject to a lifetime of messaging around our physical selves, and that narrative has taken root and is emotionally hard to unpick. So even if we understand intellectually that our worth is not based in our physical body, emotionally we still beat ourselves up and feel unworthy.
By laying proactive groundwork in children before they develop any potential body image concerns, we are supporting them with a stronger and more positive foundation for their core beliefs. And this makes them more resilient to the latent social and media messaging that is less helpful or inclusive.
I am passionate about supporting parents and children in truly believing their worth does not lie in the physical. Our bodies are here to mobilize us through life, help us to have the experiences we desire, and enable us to become the people we want to be. They were not designed to look a certain way or fit a popular mould. Furthermore, our bodies deserve our love and respect for the amazing job they do, even if they are not in perfect shape or health.
My first children’s book Everybody’s Body tackles this topic in a light fun way that is designed to plant positive seeds in children’s minds without the need for a difficult or heavy conversation straight away.
Whether it is through the books we read, the conversations we have, or even the way we talk to young children, I believe we have a responsibility to support them in celebrating themselves as they are, whatever that might be. Because their minds are like absorbent little sponges and it is easy to forget just what an impact we can have on them and the adults they will become!
Find out more about Everybody’s Body here.