Eating disorders most commonly occur in 14-19 year old teenage girls, but clinicians are diagnosing younger and younger children and many more boys, so it is a problem that parents should be aware of. But how can we help our children feel better about their weight when there is so much pressure from society to be thin?
Numerous studies have shown links between exposure to thin bodies and a desire to lose weight. So be careful about leaving fashion magazines around the house. However, the media isn’t the only problem as parents often guide a child's self-image. If you're very weight conscious, your children will copy you and may start saying things like, “I’m so fat" without really understanding what it means. Encourage health in your family, not weight loss per se.
Communicating with your children about weight is key. When they hit puberty their bodies will change suddenly. This may happen at a different time to their friends, leaving them feeling self-conscious. Talk to them about these changes and explain that it is normal. Try to understand their feelings and the source of any untrue beliefs they may hold.
If you believe your child may be developing unhealthy weight goals it is important to consult with your GP quickly to determine whether they have a weight problem and decide on the most appropriate action.
Being aware of potential issues and taking action quickly can really help your child develop a more healthy relationship with their body in childhood, puberty and beyond.