Another way we work toward fostering positive self-image is by moving past the experience of preschoolers as "cute" or "adorable." Of course, my co-teachers and I think that all of our preschoolers are precious little people and we love them dearly! But we work to see them as so much more than just cute, and we make sure that they know this. By viewing preschoolers as smart, capable, unique young individuals, and commenting on what we notice about their developing personalities and traits, we give credit to all of their many traits and skills, which are developing and growing every day.
Sometimes, making comments about personality traits or communication skills we notice developing can feel very difficult; after all, these traits often present themselves in the form of testing boundaries and pushing limits with adults. During these times, it can also help us as caregivers to focus on the positive indications of these behaviors, even if just to move past feelings of annoyance in that moment into a sense of acceptance and optimism.
Take, for example, the classic case of a toddler or preschooler who constantly asks questions and chats about every tiny thing they notice. As a parent or teacher, this can quickly become draining and frustrating. If, however, we try to focus on what this chatter indicates about the child - that she is developing super effective communication skills, is learning the structure of language through different forms of questions, is demonstrating a deep curiosity and a thirst for knowledge - and if we can turn this back to her by commenting on and praising her for her curiosity, we are taking the opportunity to foster a highly confident, curious, knowledge-loving young person who will probably be inspired to learn to read as soon as possible.
This same attitude can be turned toward kids testing in more intense ways, while still maintaining the boundaries that work for you. "It definitely doesn't work for you to hit things with a baseball bat inside the house, but I see that you are really enjoying moving your body in such big ways. Your strong body will probably be great at baseball or gymnastics. You can try those things outside!"
Or, "I won't let you hit your sister. You were upset that she took your toy, and you were trying to tell her that! I can see that you are someone who really knows what you want and need. Let's see if we can tell her in a different way."
By commenting on and praising what we notice about the children's hard work, unique personality traits, and dedicated interests as often as or even more often than we compliment them on their appearance, we're encouraging their own sense of individuality and pride in aspects of themselves that are lifelong; their appearance right now, after all, is temporary and primarily out of their control. If we focus on aspects of them that they can control and foster, they will have a strong foundation and understanding of themselves; when they are faced with negative messages about bodies and body image they will be well-armed to combat them with grace and confidence.
Of course, we all comment on appearances sometimes, and that's totally okay! At Tumbleweed, we try to keep these comments in the realm of "I notice" and "how do you feel" statements instead of - or in addition to - projecting our own opinions. For example, we might say:
"Woah, I just noticed you have a cool new truck shirt on today! You really love trucks, don't you?"
"That beautiful dress is so long and flowy. It looks like it's great for twirling around. I bet you feel pretty good in that!"
"You got a new haircut! How does that feel? Would you tell us the story of what happened when you got your hair cut?"
Instead of saying:
"You look cute in that new truck shirt!"
"You look so beautiful in that dress!"
"It looks like you got a handsome new big boy haircut!"
and why they intentionally choose their clothes and hairstyles based on things such as favorite colors, comfort, and interests instead of simply "because it's cute" instills a sense of pride and ownership over their appearance.
Here are some more great tips on raising a body positive kid, from the article at https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/5-ways-parents-of-preschoolers-can-raise-a-body-positive-kid :
2. Call out stereotypes when you see them. When you see gender stereotypes in media -- for example, during sporting events such as the Super Bowl -- talk about them.
Ask kids what they think about heavyset or slim toys or characters on TV and in movies. Keep an ear out for kids expressing assumptions about real people based on their body sizes.