Whether we like it or not, we’re “stuck” with our bodies forever, and so the least we can do is take care of ourselves the best we can. Parents and caregivers owe it to their children to teach them about bodies and how to care for them, both inside and out. Since so much brain development occurs within the first 5 years of life, preschool and toddlerhood are ideal stages to learn about bodies.
How can we teach young children to take physical care of themselves, appreciate themselves, and feel comfortable in their own skin?
When it comes to taking care of our physical self, let’s start with the basics. Teach your child the anatomically correct terms for body parts – including genitalia. Show your child which body parts are which by pointing them out and naming them. Pointing out body parts and describing what you’re doing during diaper changes is a great way to teach infants and toddlers about private body areas. Using nicknames or other words to label body parts may seem easy and even harmless (because let’s face it, no one wants to be with their 2-year-old who’s yelling “penis” down every aisle of the grocery store), but it can be detrimental to your child’s safety and wellbeing. If your child is hurt or if something happens to them or someone else, they need to be able to state the correct name of the affected body part to get help from a trusted adult (parent, teacher, doctor, etc.).
Some practices for learning about our minds also teach us things about our bodies. Below are some ways to encourage children to learn about themselves and to love themselves:
- Practice regular hygiene. Teach your children how to clean themselves – handwashing, toothbrushing, etc. Encourage them to help wash themselves in the bath or shower. Show them that cleaning themselves is important and is an easy way to learn to appreciate themselves.
- Encourage self-expression. Allow your toddler to pick out their own outfit for the day. Who cares if they’re wearing stripes with polka dots and mismatched shoes? Picking out their outfits and even dressing themselves makes them feel in control of their body and their choices.
- Teach your child about disabilities and differences amongst others. Explain and encourage inclusion and allow your child to be curious about other people. If other bodies can be a certain way, why can’t mine?
- Educate about food, eating, and listening to hunger cues. Help your child understand when they are hungry and when they are full. We all want our children to eat enough food and to try new things, but instead of encouraging them to make a “clean” or “happy” plate, encourage them to take 3 “no-thank you” bites and then provide them with an alternative food.
- Preach positive affirmations! Find phrases to repeat or songs to sing while getting ready in the morning, before going to sleep, or randomly throughout the day. Speak positively of yourself and of your child and teach them to do the same.
One of the hardest parts about encouraging body positivity in children is being positive about our own adult bodies. You might not like what you see in the mirror – let’s work on that – but try not to let your child see or hear you pick yourself apart. Though it may be challenging, talk positively about yourself (your mind and body) in front of your child and don’t be offended if/when they ask you questions about your body. For example, if your child asks why you have big ears and they have little ears, tell them that you are big and they are little and their ears will grow just like the rest of them. You could also tell them that all bodies are different and none of them are “wrong” or “bad”.
There are a variety of ways to teach children about their minds and bodies and how to appreciate themselves. The easiest and most effective way is to use age-appropriate language to answer questions honestly. Never ignore your child’s questions or curb their curiosity. Each question is a learning opportunity for both of you, so make the most of it. And remember, every body is different, and that’s okay, because every body is beautiful in its own special way!
Written by: Sophie Colley (Administrative Assistant in Stow)