Resources for parents, teachers and care-givers.

building a positive body image for kids, anti-bullying, healthy eating and eating disorders resources for parents

Help your child
develop a positive body image!

Information and Resources

  • Developing a Positive Body Image
  • Healthy Eating Patterns
  • Weight Bias
  • What to Do About Bullying
  • Eating Disorders
  • PLUS links to books and articles on these topics!


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Frequently Asked Questions

A healthy or positive body image is more about the way your child feels about her/his body than actual body shape or size.
Body image begins early in childhood, and develops and changes throughout life.
Someone with a healthy body image accepts, and even feels satisfied,
with their body’s appearance and its capacities.

Our body is our home!
A person with a healthy body image feels comfortable in her/his body, and values taking care of her/himself.
A person with a healthy body image practices positive behaviors, and isn’t preoccupied with body shape and size.

If your child is average size, it may be tempting to respond, “You’re not fat.”
However, this response suggests that being fat is still something to be feared.
Unfortunately, this often leaves kids with anxiety:
they’re only okay as long as they don’t gain too much weight. . .
but maybe they should be careful.
Worrying about body size can have a long-term effect on eating behaviors, body preoccupation, and weight.

Instead, explain to your child that her/his body is amazing!
Our bodies gets to decide all sorts of things:
what color eyes we have, what color hair we have, how tall we’ll be, and our size and shape.

We can decide how to take care of our body.
Getting good sleep, including healthy foods in our diet, and finding ways to be active helps keep our body healthy and strong.
When kids take care of their bodies, their body shape and size will be exactly the way it’s supposed to be!

Look for the following signs and behaviors:

  •      Eating very small meals/skipping meals/refusing to eat
  •      Excessive or overly strenuous exercise
  •      Hiding or sneaking food
  •      Disappearing after eating, especially to the bathroom
  •      Intense fear of being fat and/or distorted body image

If you’re concerned about your child,
seek a professional who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders for an evaluation.

The following organizations offer additional information:

Keep in mind that children are born knowing when they’re hungry and knowing when they’re full.
Research shows that kids often become disconnected from these natural, internal signals for all sorts of reasons. (1,2)

Help your child develop a healthy relationship with food.
This means that most of the time your child eats when physically hungry,
stops when full, and chooses from a wide variety of foods.
It’s important for children to know how to include all types of foods in their diet,
both nutritious and less nutritious.

Children feel deprivation when certain foods are off limits.  
They can also become overly concerned when there’s too much focus on “healthy” foods.
Children who are allowed to stay in charge of their appetites stay connected to their natural hunger signals.
This also helps to prevent control struggles about eating between parents and kids.
Learning  how to feed  your child leads to a lifelong healthy relationship with food.
Find books and articles on this topic below.

Every family has its own patterns of eating.
In general, it’s important to help kids stay connected to their bodies
by honoring their hunger and stopping when full.
If you notice your child is eating for reasons other than hunger
(such as boredom, loneliness, or sadness)
see if you can help her/him deal more directly with these feelings.
If the problem persists, consider seeking help from a knowledgeable professional.

1 Birch, L., et al. (1991). The variability of young children’s energy intake. New England Journal of Medicine, 324, 232.
2  Johnson, S. and Birch, L. (1994). Parents’ and children’s adiposity and eating style. Pediatrics. 94, 653-661.

Most kids like to move their bodies.  
Just watch a toddler or young child and observe the joy as they dance, run or skip.
Older kids often find pleasure in playing soccer, riding a bike, skating, or many other physical activities.
If your child already enjoys physical activity, that’s wonderful!
Support them in moving their bodies and having fun.

At the same time, children have different energy levels.
Some kids seem happier sitting around playing video games or watching TV.
If that describes your child, try to engage him/her in fun activities as a family.
Perhaps you can walk the dog, explore a park or play some Frisbee together.
A bike ride on a beautiful day, a swim at the local pool, or sledding after a snowfall
are some ways to keep everyone moving their bodies and bonding at the same time.  

There are many messages in the culture that emphasize exercise for weight loss.
Unfortunately, connecting physical activity to weight loss can have a negative outcome.
Never shame your child for not being more active
and do not connect exercise or activity to weight loss.

It is always important to make sure there are no medical issues
that need to be addressed, and to look at the growth rate for your child to make sure it’s steady.

Genetics and a variety of other factors influence your child’s weight.
Keep in mind that even if all of our children ate the same foods and
had the same amount of physical activity,
they would not have the same body shape or size.

Currently, there is no proven diet that results in permanent weight loss.
Many weight loss diets work in the short run.
However, about 95% of people who diet will gain back the lost weight,
and 66% will end up at a higher than their pre-diet weight. (1)
Can you imagine any other medical intervention with that high of a failure rate being offered as a solution?

When children are shamed about their body size it affects their self-esteem,
and can lead to lifelong struggles with food and weight.
Instead, stay focused on positive behaviors that promote physical and emotional health.
Developing healthy eating patterns, fun physical activity, playing with friends,
having some “down” time, and getting a good night’s sleep all contribute to a
physically and emotionally healthy child, regardless of body size.

There is so much pressure about weight on both kids and parents.
Find books and articles on this topic on our Resource page below.

1 Source: Mann, T. et al. (2007) Medicare’s Search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer.  American Psychologist, 62 (3), 220-233.

 Weight teasing and bullying is the most common kind of bullying at schools.
These behaviors result from the weight bias that exists in our culture.
Examples of weight bullying include name calling and derogatory jokes,
being excluded from social activities, and being verbally or physically harassed.

If bullying occurs at school, ask to see the school bullying policy.
Work with teachers, counselors and administrators to give a clear message that bullying will not be tolerated.
According to the Stop Bullying Now Foundation,
schools that have an anti-bullying program show a 50% decrease in bullying behavior.

Learn more about anti-bullying programs at:

You may believe that if you can help your child lose weight, it may stop the bullying.
While that belief is understandable, your child may feel blamed for having the “wrong” body.
No matter how you feel about different body sizes and shapes, everybody deserves to be treated with respect.
Make sure that in your efforts to help your child, you aren’t inadvertently contributing to the bullying.

Instead, offer reassurance that you unconditionally love your child.  
Ask your child to tell you what’s happening, and listen to what s/he tells you.
Let your child know that it’s not his/her fault.
Support techniques for kids who are bullied has many useful strategies you can try.

Each of us has our own relationship with food and our body.
You may have experienced anxiety, shame, or pain about your own higher weight.
Understandably, you want to protect your children from feeling the same negative feelings.
Or, you may be extremely concerned with “good” and “bad” foods and maintaining a thinner weight.
Your attitudes are also influenced by a culture that condones weight prejudice and normalizes disordered eating patterns.
Any of these concerns can trickle down to your children.

If you struggle with your own eating and weight issues,
we encourage you to learn more about how to make peace with food and your body.
As you develop a healthy and satisfying relationship with food and your body,
these positive steps will also to trickle down to your children.

Find books and articles on this topic on our Resource page below including
The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care
by Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel.

Try to stay aware of the messages you’re communicating to your child.
10 Steps to Helping Your Child Develop a Healthy Body Image
has ideas about how to talk with your child in ways that foster the healthy body image
that’s essential for kids to be confident and strong.

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Body Image and Dieting Statistics Related to Children

“Mommy, am I fat?”
This concern is common among elementary school, and even pre-school girls.
Research shows that children who diet are at an increased risk for all sorts of problems including eating disorders and weight gain.

How Many?

1st-3rd grade girls who want to be thinner


1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner

How Many?

10 year old girls who are afraid of being fat


10 year old girls are afraid of being fat.

How Many?

13 year old girls who are unhappy with their bodies


13 year old girls who are unhappy with their bodies.

How Many?

17 year old girls who are unhappy with their bodies


17 year old girls who are unhappy with their bodies.

95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight within 1-5 years.
46% of 9-11 year olds are sometimes, or very often on diets.
50% of teenage girls and 30% of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors
such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives to control their weight.
35% of normal dieters progress to pathological dieting.
Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full syndrome eating disorders.

Sources for these facts:
• Neumark-Sztainer, D. et. al. (2006, April) Obesity, disordered eating, and eating disorders in a longitudinal study of adolescents: How do dieters fare 5 years later? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 106(4), 559-568.
• Collins, M.E. (1991). Body figure perceptions and preferences among pre-adolescent children. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 199-208.
• Mellin, L., McNutt, S., Hu, Y., Schreiber, G.B., Crawford, P., & Obarzanek, E. (1991). A longitudinal study of the dietary practices of black and white girls 9 and 10 years old at enrollment:The NHLBI growth and health study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 23-37.
• Eating Disorder Hope
• Teen Health and the Media

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10 Steps to Help Your Child Develop a Healthy Body Image

1.  Avoid diet talk and dieting behavior in front of children (and altogether, if possible!)

2.  Avoid commenting negatively on other people’s body weight, shape and/or size,
as well as your own, in front of children.

3.  Refrain from criticizing your child’s weight or appearance.

4.  Do not categorize foods as “good” and “bad”.

5.  Feed your child and encourage physical activity using guidelines based on age, not based on body size.

6.  Compliment your child on positive behaviors and characteristics, rather than focusing on body size and appearance.

7.  Encourage physical activity for enjoyment and fitness, rather than weight control.

8.  Promote a healthy relationship with food. This includes honoring cues for hunger and fullness,
providing a wide variety of all types of food, and sharing family meals whenever possible.

9.  Support self-care behaviors—rather than weight loss—as the road to happiness, health and success.
Examples include getting enough sleep, good grooming habits, developing creative hobbies and interests.

10.  Teach kids that people naturally come in different shapes and sizes,
and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

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Related Books and Articles

Books About Children

Your Child’s Weight: Help Without Harming
by Ellyn Satter

Kids, Carrots and Candy: A Practical, Positive Approach to Raising Kids Free of Food and Weight Problems
by Jane Hirschmann and Lela Zaphiropoulos

Real Kids Come In All Sizes: Ten Essential Lessons to Build Your Child’s Body Esteem
by Kathy Kater

Books for Adults

The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care
by Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel.

Intuitive Eating
by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight
by Linda Bacon

Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and quite that critical voice!)
by Connie Sobczak


Healthy Bodies; Teaching Kids What They Need To Know
A Comprehensive Curriculum to Address Body Image, Eating, Fitness and Weight Concerns in Today’s Challenging Environment (Volume 3)

by Kathy Kater, LICSW

Full of Ourselves: A Wellness Program to Advance Girl Power, Health, and Leadership
by Catherine Steiner-Adair

NAAFA’s Childhood Advocacy Toolkit


Body Image Health

Ellyn Satter Institute

A Mighty Girl

Beauty Redefined

Links to Related Articles and Blogs

What Not To Say To Your Child About Her Weight by Brian Krans

Promoting Positive Body Image by Dayle Hayes

Weighing Down Our Children: The Battle Against Obesity by Dawn Friedman

A Dietitian Who Won’t Oversell Nutrition to Her Kids by Maryann Jacobsen

Reclaiming the “F” Word:It’s For The Children by Katja Rowell, MD

The Night My World Caved In by Dawn Friedman

Bringing Body Love Into Dance Class:A New Way Of Teaching by Amanda Trusty

Girls And Dieting:Then And Now by Jeffrey Zaslow

It’s Not Just Girls. Boys Struggle With Body Image, Too by Noelle Campbell

Parent Conversations about Healthful Eating and Weight: Associations with Adolescent Disordered Eating Behaviors JAMA Pediatrics, August 2013, Vol 167, No. 8

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The Health at Every Size® Approach

The Association for Size Diversity and Health developed these concepts for Health at Every Size®

Weight Inclusivity:
Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes
and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.

Health Enhancement:
Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services,
and personal practices that improve human well-being,
including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.

Respectful Care:
Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias.
Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender,
sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.

Eating for Well-being:
Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure,
rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.

Life-Enhancing Movement:
Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests
to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

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Eating Disorder Information

Disclaimer: The information contained on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment.
The information presented offers a perspective to inform decisions related to food and health.
You should always seek care from a doctor for any concerns related to medical conditions.

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