- GetActive! Singapore
This article is brought to you in collaboration with KK Women's and Children's Hospital.
Believe it or not, research suggests that pre-school kids as young as three start forming an opinion about themselves. Globally, by the time they reach teenage years, at least 70% of children feel dissatisfied with the way they look.
Dr Chew Chu Shan Elaine, a Senior Consultant from the Adolescent Medicine Service, Department of Paediatrics, at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), has been specialising in paediatric medicine and adolescent health since 2011. She works closely with families, young children and adolescents managing obesity and eating disorders. We find out from her what parents should look out for and how to help children tackle body image and build self-confidence.
“Children with obesity have higher likelihood of having poor body image. Both conditions are increasingly common worldwide in the past few decades. In Singapore, concerns about body image tend to develop around the beginning of puberty with physical changes in the body.”
Traditionally, while we are inclined to associate poor body image with girls, boys suffer from it too, as both are subject to stereotypes of the “ideal body type”.
In addition, we could have neglected the extent to which these two factors influence kids’ self-perception.
1. Media and culture
In today’s landscape, both adults and children are inundated by ease of access and over-exposure to electronic devices and media. Pop culture, fashion trends, what’s in and what’s not… these are even more easily propagated by social media nowadays. Kids start being tech-savvy from very young, though unfortunately, it does not equate to them being discerning.
2. Adult & peer influence
From teachers, coaches, relatives to yes, even parents, all of us adults are being observed by kids. What we say, how we say it, and even our facial expressions and body language are not lost on the children who pick up things faster than we realise. Within sight, we can try to block or filter what our kids see in the media. Unfortunately, they can still find out things by interacting and comparing with peers at school or play.
The resulting negative effects should be taken seriously.
Dr Chew highlights, “In our area of work, we encounter teenagers who were previously overweight and subsequently developed eating disorders. They were frequently teased or bullied about their weight, by peers and even family members, resulting in poor body image with low self-esteem. Separately, teenagers who participate in competitive sports such as gymnastics and dance are also at higher risk of eating disorders and poor body image, as these activities tend to emphasise weight and body shape.”
“Fortunately, there are parents who noticed this in their teenage children and sought help early for eating disorders. Sport coaches also play a vital role in promoting healthy behaviours and positive body image. Often, getting help early from these parties can help children recover well, with lower chances of relapse.”
It is thus important to help our kids develop a positive body image from young, and help them build stronger self-confidence.
In school, a Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) curriculum equips students with age-appropriate knowledge and skills to help them build healthy self-esteem and positive self-identity.
At home, parents can start making a difference in these ways.1. Converse, converse, converse (and how best to do so)
Photo 1: Dr Chew and her children having a family day out.
As a mother of two children, Dr Chew shares, “I use story books and online resources to initiate conversations with my older child, particularly in educating her about body changes around puberty and to promote a positive growth mindset. On a daily basis, I chat with my children about how their day went – this is a good way to validate their emotions and encourage them to be positive role models to their peers by placing less emphasis on appearance and more on abilities and skills.”
Photo 2: Dr Chew and her children enjoying the Christmas cheer one year
2. Moderate content
3. Eat well and eat right… together
4. Work out… as a family
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Lastly, Dr Chew reminds fellow parents, “Understandably, wider societal and media influences make it extra challenging for us to raise confident and healthy children. But remember, being a role model for our children through our own healthy behaviour and positive mindset is definitely one of the most important ways to help them.”