How Caregivers Influence A Child’s Body Image

In my last post we discussed the significance of an infant’s body image to growth. As children learn to explore, they develop body control and body image. During this time, children are in relationships with caregivers who play an important role in providing experiences that can enhance both body control and body image.

Body image, caregivers and related disorders

(Reminder: Body self describes a child’s sense of physical self. Body scheme and body control refer to the subconscious understanding of motor capacities and abilities that enable movement. Body image is the mental picture one has of his/her body.)
Laughing baby girl
Caregivers need to express in words and show in facial expressions their delight in children’s appearance, movements and explorations.

One theory of body self focuses on the development of self as involved in relationships and activities with significant caregivers. It is important that children see their caregivers enjoying them in their bodies; meaning, the caregivers express in words and show in facial expressions their delight in the children’s appearance, movements and explorations. If this does not happen, children do not develop a positive body image and can believe that they are unattractive, unacceptable and unlovable.

Research has taught us that infants and children who are brought up in isolation or certain orphanages in which they experienced a lack of touch and holding (see post on attachment ) often develop significant disorders that are revealed in feelings of bodily damage or distortions. Related disorders due to physical or sexual abuse neglect, lack of touch, understimulation or overstimulation and rejection of a child’s body in infancy and early childhood may also be present. 

Happy Asian baby
Core to the child's self-image is how he/she is acknowledged and appreciated at the body image level as an infant and child.

Some disorders associated with these deficits are: 

  • Anorexia nervosa and bulimia (eating disorders)
  • Narcissistic and borderline personality disorder
  • Character disorders manifest in criminal and violent behavior
  • Promiscuity and sexual perversions
  • Body dysphoric disorder
  • Somatic delusions
  • Self-mutilation

Certainly there is more than one determinant possible as why children end up with these types of disorders.

At Lakeside, we are aware of such causes and disorders as we see many students who portray some of the issues above. However, core to child’s self-image is how he/she is acknowledged and appreciated at the body image level as an infant and child.

Our early childhood caregivers have huge impact to the early experiences of children in their care. Their training includes an awareness and recognition of their impact and opportunity to be a positive influence on the body image of children as they encounter, engage, provide feedback and enjoy them.

Caring for the body image of children is a critical stewardship for everyone who cares for a child. It is an awesome responsibility and certainly a privilege! 

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Source: Information taken from Pathways to Competence, Encouraging Healthy Social and Emotional Development in Young Children, Second Edition by Sarah Landy, pp 88-89.

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