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Health Team

Psychologist: Parents' negative body images are harming their kids

Posted July 21

— Summer is a time many people look forward to since they can enjoy the pool or go to the beach. But, for others, it's a time people dread because they don't like their physical appearances.

According to doctors, those feelings can be contagious. When grownups -- especially parents -- complain about their physical appearance during swim season, they need to be reminded that little ears often hear what they say.

Dr. Kate Eshleman, a pediatric psychologist with Cleveland Clinic, says children may interpret those comments on their own appearance. According to Eshleman, all parents, both moms and dads, need to remember that children model behavior.

"Daughters and sons listen not only to what their parents say but then they also watch what they do," said Eshleman. "So if parents are making comments about their own physical features, it affects the way the kids feel about the parent's physical features as well as their own."

It's also important for parents to monitor the way they behave, and Eshleman says that's especially true when it comes to mothers and daughters.

"Moms who criticize, or even joke about, their own appearance and engage in either extreme dieting or unhealthy eating behaviors may be more likely to have daughters who do the same," said Eshleman. "It's important to eat healthy, but overdoing dieting ior over-exercising can be problematic for children to see."

There's a better way for parents who want to encourage healthier habits for their children to communicate that message.

"The emphasis is always on being healthy and really recognizing that a healthy body can take on many different shapes and forms," said Eshleman. "So really focusing on physical activity and engaging in that physical activity together helps -- eating healthy meals and doing things like shopping and preparing the food together."

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