Toddlers and body image

You’re in a hurry to get out the door in the morning when you look in the mirror and mutter, “I look terrible.” This may seem like a harmless remark, but remember, little eyes are watching, and little ears are listening.

Baby is becoming more aware of their body, including what it can do, but also how it looks. It’s not uncommon for children who are only slightly older than Baby to start making negative comments about their own bodies, which is often a result of what they hear at home.

A poor body image can result in issues down the road, such as low self-esteem, as well as eating disorders. It’s up to you to start to lay the groundwork for a positive body image early, and here are some ways to build Baby up as they become more aware of their body.

  • Choose your words carefully: In addition to developing more expressive language this year, Baby’s receptive language is improving, too. This means that they are picking up on more of what you say every day. This means it’s important to be more mindful of the words you use to describe yourself in front of them, and to avoid putting yourself down on days you aren’t looking your best. You’re one of the people they like the best in the entire world, and as they hear what you say about yourself, your words will help shape their feelings about their own body.
  • Shift the focus: Instead of talking about how people’s bodies look, try talking about what they can do. A pregnant woman might mention she is feeling enormous – instead of playing up that line of thought in front of Baby, you might say something about how remarkable it is that her body is creating life. When talking about Baby’s body, you can set the stage for how they think about themself by marveling at how well they can run, climb, and jump.
  • Try not to compare: Baby may start noticing how their body is similar to or different from the bodies of their peers, especially if they stands out in class due to height or for other reasons. If they seem upset by their appearance, you can make a point to have conversations with them about the idea that everyone is different, and these differences are what make people unique.

At this age, Baby is very much like a sponge, soaking in everything they see and hears. These early interactions will shape the way they think about their body as they grow. Because of this, it’s important to set a positive example early to prevent negative thinking in the years to come. Remember to be mindful with your words, and to redirect any self-deprecating comments or ideas, even at this young age.

  • “Body image: Children and teens.” Family Doctor. American Academy of Family Physicians, November 2016. Retrieved January 11 2018.
  • “Helping your child develop a healthy sense of self-esteem.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Retrieved January 11 2018.
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