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Talking to Your Kids about Eating Disorders & Body Image: 5 tips for Parents

AMY GARDNER / November 10, 2014

When should you start exploring eating and body image issues with kids?

Although it’s never too early to start emphasizing the importance of good nutrition, middle school and junior high are when these issue tend to start.  Between ages 10 and 14, kids’ bodies are rapidly changing as they become more aware of appearance and compare themselves to peers.  It can be hard to get kids to talk about anything at this age, let alone something so personal.  Here are some tips for parents on how to approach this touchy subject.

1.  Discuss the benefits of good nutrition.  Talk about how food helps fuel the body and how good you, yourself feel after a balanced meal.  Need help determining what a balanced meal looks like?  See this handout for some useful information – Balance Your Plate.

2.  Consider going to a registered dietitian.  Visiting a dietitian together will allow you to start the conversation and provide good, solid overview of the importance of nutrition during adolescence.  Plus, sometimes having someone else communicate the information has a greater impact.  If your child wants it, give her some time alone with the dietitian to discuss any issues that she may not want to talk with you about.  If it’s important for you to know, the dietitian will make sure you do.

3.  Ask about friends.  It is much easier for kids to talk about what their friends are doing.  Starting a conversation this way can open up the door to self-disclosure.  Consider reviewing some of the items on this screening tool ChEAT.  Ask your son or daughter if they know anyone who struggles with some of these issues.  Or, find an article to read together.

4.  Watch videos & media clips.  There are some great resources available to explore media’s influence on body image.  Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Me Softly is an excellent one.  Here’s a short clip from the movie to give you a taste.  The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is another one.  This clip, Dove legacy is great for mothers and daughters to watch together.  Take some time to process the information after watching.  Or, it may work better to have your child write a few things down that they relate to and have you read them.

5.  Don’t pressure!  The best thing you can do for your child is to leave the door open.  Let then know you are available and interested in talking about this.  If you suspect a real problem, definitely visit a licensed psychotherapist for further evaluation.  Otherwise, just present opportunities for discussion and self-exploration.  Help your child identify several other people she can talk to if she doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you.

Body image concerns are a natural part of adolescence for males and females.  Offering yourself or someone else as a support during this period can help ease any anxiety it might be causing your pre-teen or teenager.