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The surprising way you’re hurting your kids

By Taylor Hisey Pierson, health enews, a news service from Advocate Health Care

As temperatures rise, it’s time to pull out the shorts, tanks and swim suits. But be careful – the comments you make about your own body can have an impact on others, too – especially when it comes to daughters.

“Parents should be wary of their own negative body image, as it influences specifically their daughters’ own issues with their bodies,” says Sarah Katula, advanced practice nurse in psychiatry at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.

For example, a mom who constantly diets and is focused on how she looks may influence her daughter’s self-image, she adds.

“It is good to note that the impact for disturbed body image is higher for girls and women, as they have more difficulty managing societal pressures than boys and men,” says Katula.

There are a variety of factors that contribute to girls’ negative body image, such as social pressures, social media, advertising, music and certain sports. Parents, however, are considered an influence as well as role models.

Although a study from Common Sense Media says that 5 to 8-year-olds who think their moms are unhappy with their bodies are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their own, Katula makes it known that fathers can also have an impact.

“Fathers who make comments about a woman’s physical appearance can impact his daughter’s self-esteem, as she then places a higher value on looks,” says Katula.

Once a negative body image is created, it can influence further mental health problems, such as eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, obsessions with weight-loss, depression and low self-esteem. As of this year, Mental Health of America states that more than 40 million Americans have a mental health condition. Other concerns include issues with relationships and identity.

However, Katula says all of us can achieve a healthier body image by accepting and embracing our body the way it is. The National Eating Disorder Association adds that it’s key to recognize and respect the natural shape of our bodies. We can overpower those negative thoughts and feelings by creating a positive, affirming and accepting perspective of ourselves.

Katula offers these tips for parents to help their daughters build a healthier body image:

  • Compliment other attributes rather than appearance, such as talents, hard work and accomplishments
  • Create healthy relationships with food and exercise
  • Spend quality time as a family, for example, having sit-down dinners
  • Focus less on social media

While the study found that daughters are influenced by their mothers, Katula warns against blaming parents for their children’s emotional struggles.

“Parents have a much smaller sphere of influence in this technological world as outside influences are very difficult to manage in this day and age,” says Katula.

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