Our society is consumed and obsessed with how our bodies look and how we feel about them—usually about our weight and body profile. When you consider that children as young as birth-to-five require a healthy perception of their bodies to help them to grow into adults with healthy body images, you can understand the importance of their environment and relationships that impact them in those environments.
How critical is a child’s sense of body image?
Important concepts to understand about how children perceive themselves are body self, body scheme, body control and body image.
Body self describes a child’s sense of physical self. It includes an infant’s realization of physical separateness. Later, a child’s sense of body self is gained from his/her experiences: being able to control one’s body as well as how attractive one believes his/her body to be.
Body scheme and body control refer to the subconscious understanding of motor capacities and abilities that enable movement. Body scheme is more innate but open to sensorimotor actions and visual, tactile, or auditory experiences throughout life. Body control refers to a child’s ability to have fine and gross motor control.
Body image is the mental picture one has of his/her body. It is formed from critical, multiple body experiences and physical engagement with objects and people beginning in the early days of life.
In Pathways to Competence, this story (pages 87-88) illustrates how a child’s body image and a sense of body self is formed from a sense of body control and body experiences from the way in which caregivers interact with him.
When Jonah was born, he seemed to be a healthy and typically developing infant. But soon after birth he experienced multiple seizures and later had difficulty achieving motor milestones, such as sitting up, walking, jumping, and catching a ball. Before he went to school, Jonah seemed to be unaffected by his challenges and to have a good sense of self-esteem. When Jonah entered kindergarten, however, his problems became much more obvious and he was teased about his clumsiness and difficulties in performing tasks. As a result, he felt inadequate and unpopular. With help from his teacher and an occupational therapist, Jonah was able to master many fine motor tasks. Also, his parents helped him by asking other children over to play. A year later, Jonah was able to make a much smoother adjustment to first grade.
Healthy self-esteem and body image begins to form from birth
A child’s body image is so important to self-esteem during early childhood growth. Almost immediately, a child recognizes how he/she is functioning in relation to other children and how he/she looks in the framework of his/her world. If problems with body image surface, they can have a negative impact on the child’s overall self-esteem.
It is of paramount importance that caregivers clearly understand how a child’s body image impacts how healthily he/she develops, grows and adapts to the world.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network