Want to raise body positive kids? Let them see you naked

Allowing your kids to see you naked helps them develop a positive body image.
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Allowing your kids to see you naked helps them develop a positive body image.

I grew up in a 'naked house'. My parents weren't naturists, far from it. But they were relaxed enough to appear in the corridor completely starkers on their way to the bathroom. Dressing gowns were optional. The sight of my mother's boobs was familiar. Nudity wasn't a big deal.

I'd like to think that I am just as relaxed with nudity in my own home. My children often see me naked – whether it be the early morning dash to the loo, or (more frequently) because they've wandered into the bathroom while I shower. Nudity isn't a big deal in our house either.

Like most parents, my aim is to bring up children who have healthy and positive attitudes to their bodies. I believe that by showing them I'm comfortable with my body I can role model the attitude I'd like them to emulate.

A recent report from British Naturism backs this belief. In 'Children deserve better' researchers argue that "wholesome body attitudes" lead to fewer body image disorders and more sensible attitudes to life.

"This should be done ideally by bringing up children in a naturist environment where body honesty is key," the report says.

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Liz Walker is a youth sexuality education specialist and the managing director of the Youth Wellbeing Project. I asked her what she thinks about the link between nudity at home and body positivity. She agrees that the more comfortable parents are with themselves and their bodies, the more kids have a good role model.

However, Walker also notes that it's not compulsory for parents to go nude. "Some families have no problems at all being naked around each other and continue this right through every stage of development. Others prefer a different rhythm.

"It is such a personal decision and I would suggest that if open nudity within the home is something that causes distress in adults, it would be an unhelpful approach to try and change the family rhythm," she says.

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Walker suggests that in families where parents are uncomfortable with being naked, an alternative is to have regular conversations about bodies and sexuality.

"If there's an advertisement or movie that incorporates nudity, instead of rushing to turn it off or cover children's eyes, discuss it and help children put it in context," she says.

Of course, being comfortable with our own bodies isn't the be all and end all in raising body positive kids, far from it. So what else can parents do? Walker offers the following tips:

1. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes – instil in kids a broad understanding of how vastly different people are, and that media only portrays narrowed 'stereotypes' that are often inaccurate and unhelpful.

2. Use correct terminology for genitals from a very early age. As kids get older, make sure they know that we all have different size and shape hands, noses and ears, so it shouldn't be a surprise that each person's genitals are shaped and sized differently. Our bodies are ours, our bodies are unique, and our bodies are amazing!

3. How our bodies look isn't nearly as important as keeping strong and healthy through good nutrition, healthy lifestyle and positive behaviours.

4. It's quite common to compare ourselves to media or to other people but it can often leave us feeling 'less than'. Make up a 'rule' to help your kids get on top of negative thoughts such as "If I want to value me for me, comparing myself to media and others must be out of bounds in my mind."

5. The best foundation for a positive body image comes from having a healthy self-esteem, so place value in helping your child understand the characteristics of healthy, loving human behaviour.

Instil in your kids that the more confident they feel about inner qualities such as being a kind-hearted person, the less the external appearance matters. We can all be 'Re-sponse-ABLE' for our feelings and affirm ourselves for who we are. Through building emotional intelligence, we become more resilient to the unrealistic messages thrown at us from the media and social media.

 - essentialkids.com.au

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