Molly Forbes' top tips to help parents raise their kids with positive body image
9 April 2021, 11:09
Molly Forbes has opened up about ways in which we can talk to the children in our lives about body image.
Journalist and campaigner Molly Forbes is on a quest to create a generation of children and teenagers who feel happy in their own skin.
As a mum-of-two herself, she realised something needed to change when her eldest daughter asked her why she was weighing spinach during another fad diet.
The real answer was that she wanted to lose weight before their family holiday later in the year, but how could she explain this to a six-year-old?
“That was a bit of a wakeup moment," Molly told us, adding: "I realised that rather than working on my body I needed to work on my mind.”
After confronting her own attitudes toward body image, food and exercise, Molly has now written a book called ‘Body Happy Kids’.
She describes this as ‘the first empowering guide for parents and carers to help raise kids who are at peace in their own bodies’, and it includes theory and practical exercises to try with children.
We chatted to Molly ahead of her book release, where she gave us her top tips when it comes to helping kids understand that every body is good.
Focus on what bodies can do
While Molly is a keen advocate for body confidence, she likes to focus on what bodies can do, rather than what they look like.
“Rather than all bodies are beautiful, I teach that all bodies are good bodies,” she explains.
“And the way our bodies look is the least interesting thing about us. Our bodies do amazing things for us every day.”
She suggests talking to children about what their bodies are capable of by using phrases such as ‘I love how my arms can give you cuddles’ and ‘I love how my legs enable me to run around at the park.’
Molly adds that parents should allow their children to see a wide range of bodies and know that all bodies are good bodies.
Affirmations or short phrases can also help kids understand their bodies more and reinforce the idea that appearance is not important, Molly tells us.
“My little one is only six and her favourite thing to say is ‘my body, my rules’,” she says, continuing: “Only she gets to define her body, no one else gets to define it or make judgements on it, it’s her body, her rules.”
Molly’s daughter also uses the affirmation ‘it’s not my job to be pretty’, with Molly explaining: “She will say ‘I like this outfit because I’m really good at picking colours, but it’s not my job to be pretty’”.
Have open discussions about social media
While neither of Molly’s daughters are on social media yet, she insists that chatting to them openly about Instagram and TikTok is so important.
Her family already has a ‘social media agreement’ and they speak in detail about why people on social media use different photos and what messages they are trying to convey.
But Molly adds it’s important not to be scared of your kids spending time online, as she told us: “It’s unrealistic to think a parent can sit next to their child for every youtube video they’re watching, we’re not with them all the time so we can’t have complete control.
“We see so much information every day. There’s no way you can control all the things your children are seeing and hearing, but one thing we can do is give them tools to navigate some of these messages.”
Take away the guilt
Molly brings up her own children with ‘food neutrality’, which is the idea that food is neither good nor bad.
She told us: “Some food has more nutrients in it, but that doesn't mean it’s good.
“If you eat kale it doesn't make you a good person, if you eat chocolate it doesn't make you a bad person.
“By taking the morality away from food and allowing children regular access to some of the foods we would like them to eat less of, it allows them to moderate their own appetites and trust their bodies.”
This can also be helpful if you want children to eat more veg, because Molly points out that nagging kids and telling them chocolate is bad can make them want this even more.
Enjoy movement together
Describing children as ‘naturally intuitive movers’, Molly says parents should frame movement as something enjoyable, as opposed to some we ‘need’ to do.
She tells us: “It’s really common to see children run and skip when they could just walk, even my six-year-old doesn't walk, she skips, hops and jumps.
“Children are often naturally connected to the joy of moving their body and the key is to keep that connection going.”
If your children don’t like formal sports, they can move their bodies in different ways, like yoga, kitchen discos and bubble parties.
“It’s not about moving their body in a particular way, it’s about having fun,” Molly says, adding: “Let’s appreciate what our bodies can do for us, movement can be a really joyful thing.”
Molly’s book 'Body Happy Kids: How to help children and teens love the skin they’re in' is now available to buy for £14.99.